What is the shingles vaccine?

Many of you 60 years of age or older may have been told by your doctor to get the shingles vaccine, but what exactly is it and why is it recommended that people that age receive the vaccination?

Shingles is a disease that can affect people of any age, but it most commonly affects adults over 60 years old. It is a reactivation of the virus that causes the disease commonly known as chickenpox, or varicella. Shingles usually appears as a painful rash in specific patterns based on the layout of nerves underneath your skin. The rash normally goes away in about a week and a half, but many people have continuing burning pain in the areas where the rash was. Other symptoms you may experience with the disease include headache, fever, and fatigue. If you get shingles, be sure to see your doctor for medication to help control the rash or help with your pain.

The shingles vaccine (Zostavax) is recommended for most adults when they reach 60 years of age. Similar to the chickenpox vaccine that many children are receiving these days, the shingles vaccine is just a quick shot given in the arm. It makes you less likely to have the disease. If you do get shingles after the vaccine, you will experience a milder form with less chance of developing persistent pain. The vaccine is also recommended if you have had shingles before because there is a risk that you can get it again. 

Even if you had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine when you were younger, doctors still recommend that you get the shingles vaccine because your ability to fight off the disease decreases over time.

Talk to your doctor if you are interested in receiving the vaccine. A nearby pharmacy may also be able to give you the vaccine. Please visit the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/vaccination.html if you would like more information.

Adrian Martinez is a Puerto Rican born in California and raised in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Florida. He graduated in 2014 from the University of Florida with a B.S. in Biology and is currently a first-year medical student attending the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. He is on the executive board of the school’s chapter of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) and hopes to one day specialize in Emergency Medicine. 


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