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Getting Ahead: Shingles

Posted Jan 25, 2023 10:31 AM
By Patricia Jones, Alliance Community Task Force: Creating Opportunity

Many of us remember having chickenpox when we were kids. Fever, blisters, scabs, itchy, itchy, itchy. As we age, we have to worry about its sister disease, shingles. Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox. Even though we recovered from chickenpox long ago, the virus continues to live in some of our nerve cells. The good news – the shingles vaccine is now covered for those on Medicare Part D, the drug supplement.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans get shingles every year. Although people do not die from shingles, it hurts. Usually, shingles develops on just one side of the body or face, and in a small area. The most common place for shingles to occur is around one side of the waistline. People with shingles have one or more of the following symptoms:

· Fluid-filled blisters and rash

· Burning, shooting pain

· Tingling, itching, or numbness of the skin

· Chills, fever, headache, or upset stomach

Most cases of shingles last three to five weeks. For some people, the symptoms of shingles are mild. They might just have some itching. For others, shingles can cause intense pain that can be felt from the gentlest touch or breeze. PHN (post-herpetic neuralgia, the ongoing pain) can last for months, even years. The older you are when you get shingles, the greater your chances of developing PHN.

Shingrix is a relatively new vaccine that is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and PHN. Immunity stays strong for at least the first seven years after vaccination.

Your doctor or pharmacist can give you Shingrix as a shot in your upper arm. Adults 50 years and older should get two doses of Shingrix, separated by 2 to 6 months. Adults 19 years and older who have weakened immune systems should also get two doses of Shingrix. Even people who had the shingles vaccine Zostavax should get the new, much more effective vaccine.

If you had shingles in the past, Shingrix can help prevent you from getting it again. There is no specific length of time that you need to wait after having shingles before you can receive Shingrix, but generally you should make sure the shingles rash has gone away before getting vaccinated.

Studies show that Shingrix is safe. You are likely to have temporary side effects from getting the shots. Most people got a sore arm with mild or moderate pain, and some also had redness and swelling where they got the shot. Some people felt tired or had a headache. Symptoms went away on their own in a couple of days.

Vaccination is the most cost-effective way to prevent diseases. Most insurance companies cover vaccines, but you may have to reach a certain age to be eligible for Shingrix. Medicare prescription drug plans (Medicare Part D) cover all the recommended, commercially available vaccines needed to prevent illness. Because of the Inflation Reduction Act, starting January 1, 2023, older Americans should be able to get the Shingrix vaccine at no cost! Take advantage of the opportunity to prevent what can be a very painful disease.