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House Calls: There’s a vaccine for shingles

If you are at the age of 60 or older, the shingles vaccine may prevent you from getting shingles. And if you’ve had shingles, the vaccine may keep you from getting the virus again.

Shingles is a painful skin rash, with blisters caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This virus is the same one that causes chickenpox. If someone has had chickenpox, the virus is never completely gone from the body. It lays dormant in the nerve tissues in your body.

When your immune system weakens due to emotional or physical distress the virus reactivates and spreads along nerve fibers in a particular area. The first sign of shingles is a burning or tingling sensation in one area of the body. After a few days a blister rash may develop.

The shingles vaccine, Zostavax, contains a weakened form of the chickenpox virus. The vaccine stimulates your immune system to battle the virus and this reduces the risk of getting shingles. The vaccine reduces your risk of getting shingles by 50 percent. The vaccine also shows that if you do get shingles they may last a shorter period of time. Sometimes shingles left untreated can last several weeks or even months.

The shingles vaccine should be considered for people over the age of 60. People with medical conditions that cause them to have a weakened immune system should get the vaccine. The Center of Disease Control recommends a single dose of the vaccine for people 60 years and older, even if you have had the shingles.

People who should not get the vaccine are: those who have had a severe allergic reaction to gelatin or neomycin, people with a weakened immune system due to HIV, cancer treatment such as chemo or radiation, people with a history of leukemia or lymphoma, those with active TB or women who are pregnant.

The most common side effects of the vaccine are redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the shot site. When someone gets the vaccination it is safe to be around infants and young children, pregnant women, or people with a weakened immune system. There is no proof that someone can get chickenpox from the shingles vaccine. Some people can get a small chickenpox like rash around the place where the vaccine was given and this should be covered until it disappears.

All Medicare Part D insurances cover the vaccine. Medicare part B doesn’t cover the vaccine. Medicaid may or may not cover the shingles vaccine. Check with your pharmacy to be sure. Most private health insurances cover the vaccine if the patient is over the age of 60.

Consult your physician if you are interested in receiving the vaccine. You will need to get a prescription for it and the doctor’s office or the pharmacy can give you the vaccine.