Shingles is a disease related to chickenpox, according to a BCHD release. It is a painful skin rash caused by chickenpox, as even after treatment the virus remains in the body’s nerve cells and it can reappear at a later time.
“In other words, chickenpox and shingles are different manifestations or states of the same virus,” said Rachel Christian, BCHD’s clinical coordinator. “The first time someone is infected with the varicella zoster virus he or she usually develops chickenpox, characterized by itchy, fluid-filled or encrusted blisters all over the body. After the chickenpox resolves, the varicella zoster virus lays dormant in the nerve cells, usually for many years.”
A shingles outbreak is characterized by a painful skin rash on one side of the body, often with blisters, Christian said. The rash usually lasts two to four weeks and symptoms can include fever, chills, headache and upset stomach. In some cases the pain remains even after the rash is gone. Rarely, she added, shingles can lead to pneumonia, blindness, hearing problems, swelling of the brain and death. The virus can reactivate as its host ages or if the host’s immune system is weakened.
The vaccine, called Zostavax, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for people more than 50 years old, Christian explained. However, the Georgia Department of Public Health holds to the guidelines set down by the Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Those guidelines recommend shingles vaccinations for people older than 60. Anyone younger than 60 who is interested in receiving the vaccine should speak with their doctor, Christian said.
While the vaccine does not provide complete protection against outbreaks, it does reduce the number and severity.
“Recipients of the shingles vaccine have fewer and milder episodes of shingles and have less pain during and after episodes of shingles,” Christian said. “In clinical trials, the vaccine reduced the rate of shingles by about 50 percent. It is unknown how long the vaccine reduces the risk of shingles.”
Some of the vaccine’s side effects include redness, soreness, swelling and itching at the injection site along with a headache. A severe allergic reaction is characterized by hives, swelling, difficulty in breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness and weakness.
“When a client comes in to the health department for a shingles vaccine, the health department provides an estimate of the cost of the vaccine covered by insurance and an estimate of the out-of-pocket costs to the client, if any. Clients without insurance or clients whose insurance does not pay any portion of the cost of the shingles vaccine must pay the full cost of the vaccine out of pocket,” Christian said.
Those interested in getting vaccinated for shingles can contact the BCHD at 770-382-1920.