Shingles Vaccine Recommended for Ages 60 and Older
December 10, 2007
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a federal panel of immunization experts, has recommended that people age 60 and older receive a vaccine, Zostavax, to prevent herpes zoster, or shingles, a condition that often leads to debilitating chronic pain.
The vaccine recommendation approved a year ago, addresses a health problem for people age 60 and older. The varicella zoster virus which causes chickenpox and becomes dormant within the nerves following exposure, can reactivate later in life to cause shingles. The risk is highest in the elderly, although the older one gets, the greater the risk of an outbreak.
“Shingles is a resurfacing of the chickenpox virus. Stress, immune dysfunction, surgery, and other factors can activate a shingles outbreak, meaning blisters, lingering pain, and intense itchiness,” said Dr. Deborah Hamilton of Wilton Family Practice. “While the blisters may last only three to four weeks, the pain can persist for months.”
Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for shingles, and across the U.S. an estimated one million people each year have a shingles outbreak.
Unlike most vaccines such as flu, measles, or chickenpox, this vaccine boosts one’s immunity against a virus that already resides in his or her system. A weakened form of the chickenpox virus is reintroduced to the body to reduce the chance of shingles occurring or lessening the severity of the outbreak should it happen.
“Anyone who recognizes Shingle’s symptoms -- pain on one side only of the face, neck, chest, abdomen, or lower back, followed two or three days later by a rash or blisters, should go to their physician right away,” added Dr. Hamilton. “The most successful treatment is within 36 to 48 hours of the outbreak.”
Those interested in receiving a shingles vaccine should contact their primary care doctor, as well as their health insurance provider. Presently, many health plans require that patients pay doctors up front for the full cost of the vaccine and its administration, and then file for reimbursement.
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