Should I get the shingles vaccine?
Betty A. Hinderks- Davis, MD, is a dermatologist at Banner Health Center, Sun City West.
Question: What is shingles and should I get the vaccine to protect myself against shingles?
Answer: Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. When we are first exposed to this virus, we get chicken pox. Most people get chicken pox or the chicken pox vaccine in childhood. After this exposure, through the infection or vaccine, the varicella-zoster virus lives dormant in our bodies.
The reactivation of this dormant virus causes shingles to occur. This often happens when our immune system is weakened, which occurs naturally with aging but can also be caused by a stressful medical or emotional event in our life. At times, there is no obvious reason why the virus was reactivated.
Shingles leads to a rash, typically on one side of the body, which can be quite painful. The rash often looks like grouped blisters with redness in the skin surrounding it. A characteristic feature of this rash is that it does not cross the mid-line of the body.
Rarely, the varicella-zoster virus can cause pain of the skin and deep tissue without causing a rash. Or occasionally the pain can precede the rash by several days.
You cannot “catch” shingles by being exposed to someone with the active virus. However, if a person has not had chicken pox and they are around a person with shingles, they can get chicken pox.
Ask your doctor if you are a good candidate for the shingles vaccine. You can still get shingles following the vaccine, but the incidence of this occurring is greatly reduced and the rash and symptoms would likely be less severe.