Shingles: Chickenpox, the second time around


While it’s true you can’t get chickenpox twice, did you know that the virus can come back in the form of shingles?

If you’ve never had chickenpox or you’ve had the chickenpox vaccine, you’re in the clear when it comes to shingles. Shingles typically appears in people age 50 and older. It is a viral illness called  “herpes zoster” that appears as a rash that can be itchy and painful and usually appears on only one side of the body, but it can travel to the face, including the eyes.

While shingles is known for its god-awful rash, initial shingles symptoms may also include fever, stomach troubles or fatigue.  Only those who have previously had chickenpox are at risk for the condition. Beyond that, there’s no way to predict who will get shingles, though there are common risk factors, including age and certain medical conditions that weaken the immune system.

Barring that, the easiest way to reduce your risk of shingles is to get vaccinated against both diseases.

Shingrix is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for adults ages 50 and older for the prevention of shingles and related complications, whether they’ve already had shingles or not. You may get the Shingrix vaccine even if you’ve already had shingles. Also, consider getting the Shingrix vaccine if you’ve had the Zostavax vaccine in the past, or if you don’t know whether you’ve had chickenpox.

Shingrix is a nonliving vaccine made of a virus component. It’s given in two doses, with 2-6 months between doses. The most common side effects of a shingles vaccine are redness, pain, tenderness, swelling and itching at the injection site, and headaches.

Although some people will develop shingles despite vaccination, the vaccine may reduce the severity and duration of it. It can also reduce the risk of postherpetic neuralgia, a shingles complication that causes shingles pain to continue long after the blisters have cleared. Studies suggest protection against shingles with Shingrix may extend beyond five years.

Talk to your doctor about your vaccination options if you:

  • Have ever had an allergic reaction to any component of the shingles vaccine.
  • Have a weakened immune system due to a condition or medication.
  • Have had a stem cell transplant.
  • Are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

The cost of the shingles vaccine may not be covered by Medicare, Medicaid or insurance. Check your plan.

If you do contract shingles, your doctor may prescribe a medicine that fights the virus, called an antiviral. The drug helps reduce pain and complications and shorten the course of the disease. Acyclovir, famciclovir and valacyclovir may be used.


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