Shingles, also referred to as herpes zoster, is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox i.e., varicella-zoster virus. After the chickenpox has gone, the virus remains in the nerve cells of the body in a dormant state. After many years, this virus can reactivate and cause shingles.
Shingles is a contagious disease (a healthy person can get infected on coming in contact with fluids from shingles blisters) that can cause chickenpox in people who have not suffered from chickenpox earlier. Also, people who have a compromised immune system or the elderly are susceptible to this infection.
Symptoms and Treatment
The symptoms of herpes zoster include pain, increased sensitivity, numbness, burning, itching, and tingling sensation in a specific area of skin. Then, rash appears which later forms fluid-filled blisters. After about 5 days, the blisters pop and the fluid oozes out. The blisters then dry up and crust over. It takes around 2-4 weeks to heal the rash.
Along with the rash and blisters, people may suffer from diarrhea, chills, headache, abdominal pain, and maybe, fever and pneumonia. Usually, rashes are seen on the face, chest, and back, but they can also develop on arms and legs. About 1 in 5 infected people suffer from postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a complication of shingles, in which the pain continues for a longer duration (several months to even years).
The treatment involves the administration of anti-viral and anti-inflammatory drugs. Sometimes, pain relievers are prescribed to alleviate severe pain.
What is Shingles Vaccine?
This vaccine prevents the spread of shingles. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved the first vaccine 'Zostavax', in 2006. The vaccine contains a weakened varicella-zoster virus, which helps in the stimulation of the body's immune system to fight and protect against diseases caused by the same virus.
Who Should Receive a Shingles Vaccine?
The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) has recommended a single dose of the shot for adults of 60 years and above. People who have had shingles before can also receive the vaccine to prevent future occurrences of the disease. Since people in the age group 60 years and above are more vulnerable to the disease, clinical studies on the vaccine have been carried out specifically on them. According to a clinical study done on this age group, the vaccine was seen to reduce the risk of shingles in about 50% of the participants and the incidence of PHN in 67% of them.
Though the vaccine has been recommended for all adults, it is not advisable for people who have an allergy to gelatin and neomycin (components of Zostavax). This vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women. Women should not get pregnant for at least three months after taking the vaccine. It is also not recommended to people with a weakened immune system such as those suffering from HIV, diabetes, leukemia, lymphoma, and those who have received immunosuppressive drugs, like steroids and chemotherapy treatments. If a person has active tuberculosis and any other type of illness, then he/she should wait till after recovery from the illness.
What are the Risks of This Vaccine?
There may be certain side effects of the vaccine; however, such problems are rare and mostly mild. Some of the post vaccination reactions may include headache and redness, itching and swelling in the injection site. Severe problems like high fever, allergic symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, and increased heartbeat rate can occur in some cases.
One should always consult a qualified specialist before getting the vaccine. It is advisable to understand the pros and cons of the vaccine. If any complications are observed after vaccination, then it is better to seek medical attention.
Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.