Why Older Adults Should Consider Getting the Shingles Vaccine

Author: Lindsey Ulrich

 


"When someone has shingles, they can find it hard to function. It becomes painful to do anything."

 

 

 

If you have had chickenpox in the past, you are at higher risk of developing shingles, a painful rash most commonly affecting older adults and people with weakened immune systems. 

Shingles can develop when the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the virus that causes chickenpox, is awakened in the body. Shingles can occur anywhere on the body, but most often appears on the torso including the waist, chest, abdomen, or back.   

“When someone has shingles, they can find it hard to function,” said SreeniVasa Murthy, M.D., who practices family medicine at McLaren Greater Lansing – Mid-Michigan Physicians Internal Medicine Associates. “It becomes painful to do anything.”

Symptoms can take two to four weeks to fully clear, but complications may last longer even after the rash is gone. For instance, patients who have had an outbreak on their face near their eyes may subsequently experience vision problems such as keratitis. Shingles near the ear can result in Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. 

The shingles vaccine, which is recommended for people who have had the chickenpox and are 50 years of age or older, requires two shots that are administered two to six months apart. Studies have shown it to be 97 percent effective in preventing adults ages 50-69 from getting shingles, and 91 percent effective in those who are 70 or older.

“I’m talking to people regularly,” said Dr. Murthy. “I explain to them how important it is to get vaccinated, because of the possibility of pain, scarring and other possible complications.”

The vaccine also decreases the chances of a person getting postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a prolonged pain that can affect one in five people who get shingles. The pain occurs in the same area where the rash appeared and is caused by nerve fibers beneath the skin surface sustaining damage during the shingles infection. It can be a debilitating condition that lasts weeks, months, or longer.

“It’s not a fun thing to have,” said Dr. Murthy. “If you can avoid it by getting the vaccine, it is something you should consider.”

If you are 50 years of age or older and have had the chickenpox, speak with your primary care provider about the shingles vaccine. For a list of primary care physicians at McLaren Greater Lansing accepting new patients, click here.