Shingles is a tingling, red, painful, irritating, itchy, blistering disease that comes on quite suddenly and lasts about one to two weeks untreated. It is caused by varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox. After a person contracts chicken pox anytime in life, the virus actually lives in the root of the nerve for life. Decades later, the virus can come out and cause a shingles outbreak in that nerve and every branch of that nerve. It is unclear why some people get shingles, but usually it occurs only once.
Why worry about getting a vaccine when the condition only lasts for a couple weeks? Because sometimes, after the shingles infection clears, the pain in the area where the shingles occurred can still last for months or years. This condition is called postherpetic neuralgia. This occurs when the nerves get damaged after an outbreak of shingles. Post herpetic neuralgia can be very painful and does not have any good treatments. People with this disorder have chronic pain even with clothing touching the area of the former shingles outbreak.
Other complications of shingles may include: blindness (if shingles occurs in the eye which is uncommon), deafness, infection, or a second outbreak.
The biggest problem with this vaccine is that few insurance companies are paying for it. It can be around $200.
We recommend getting the vaccine to anyone over the age of 60, or younger if one takes chronic steroids or has any condition that compromises the immune system, such as diabetes, some kidney diseases, or HIV infection.
Hope this helps to clear up your questions about the shingles vaccine.
Your Neighborhood Docs
Drs. Alexis and Madhu Anvekar