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All About the Shingles Vaccine

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Whether you’ve had shingles or not, getting Zostavax – the shingles vaccine – is a smart move. Doctors recommend it to anyone over 60, but those who are younger and have had shingles before can also benefit from taking the vaccine. It’s approved for use in people aged 50 and older.

Why Get a Shingles Vaccine?

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. The virus lays dormant for many years. In many cases, it stays dormant, but in some people – usually older people – it gets new life in the form of shingles. Over 99 percent of people older than 40 had chicken pox at some point in their life, so there’s a good chance that you’re at risk for shingles.

While chicken pox is a relatively mild illness, shingles can be much more devastating. It typically lasts between two and four weeks. During that time, you may not be able to work. In some people, the disease causes lasting nerve damage. Getting the vaccine significantly reduces your risk of getting shingles.

Who Should Not Get a Shingles Vaccine?

Common allergens in the shingles vaccine are gelatin and the antibiotic neomycin. If you have a known allergy to these substances, you should not get the vaccine. Discuss any other allergies you have with your doctor, as they may also prevent you from getting the vaccine.

The shingles vaccine is also not recommended for those who have compromised immune systems, such as people who are HIV positive or those who have undergone treatment for cancer. Pregnant women or those who might become pregnant should also not get the vaccine.

Are There Side Effects?
In most people, there’s simply a red mark and soreness around the area of the injection. Some people find chicken pox-like sores near the injection, and they should cover up this area. About 1 in 70 people get a headache. More severe side effects include hives and swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing or dizziness. If this happens to you, inform your doctor.

The shingles vaccine has been tested and is proven to be safe for most people. It reduces your chances of getting shingles by about 50 percent, so it’s worth getting the shot, particularly if you are over 60. Most insurance plans will cover the vaccine.

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