Shingles can be prevented via the shingles vaccine, which is suitable to be administered to those over 50 years of age as a single dose given subcutaneously, says Dr. Salerno.
According to Alexander Salerno, MD, shingles is characterized as a viral infection that causes severe, painful rashes and blisters and is caused due to the dormant varicella virus from a previous infection of chicken pox. This virus reactivates during emotionally or physically stressful situations and causes rashes along nerve fibers lining the skin. The initial indications of being infected by shingles include a tingling pain or a burning sensation on a particular part of the body or even an itch or numbness at a particular location. A serious complication of shingles is post-herpetic neuralgia, or PHN, in which the pain lingers on beyond the normal 2- to 3-week duration for shingles and can remain for months or even years. The excruciating pain of PHN is accompanied by anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, weight loss, and difficulty in concentrating.
Because shingles is mostly found in adults aged 60 and over, who already have weak immunity, it is wise to take precautions against it rather than suffer from it, as there is no curative treatment for shingles, only medications to reduce the symptoms.
The Safety of the Shingles Vaccine
The shingles vaccine contains a large concentration of attenuated varicella virus that stimulates the body to produce antibodies against it. The vaccine is safe to be injected in those over 50, but care should be taken that after its reconstitution the vaccine must be administered immediately to minimize the loss of potency. In addition, unused vaccine must be disposed of within 30 minutes of its being opened.
The vaccine is safe enough to be administered only once, and it is not known what the repercussions would be if injected twice. Also, it is recommended that the vaccine be administered subcutaneously and not intramuscularly, but in cases in which it is injected intramuscularly, the dose is not to be repeated, explains Dr. Salerno.
Shingles vaccine is not safe for those who have an allergic reaction to gelatine, neomycin, or any component of the vaccine, or for those who have a weakened immune system because of AIDS or other, similar immune system illnesses. In addition, vaccination is not recommended for those receiving immune system-suppressing treatments or medication or for those who have cancer affecting the lymphatic system or bone marrow. Those who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant must not take the vaccine.
Side Effects of the Shingles Vaccine
Common side effects of the shingles vaccine include tenderness, redness, pain, itching, and swelling at the site of injection, often accompanied by headaches. In some individuals, the vaccine also causes a chicken pox-like rash. Serious side effects have not yet been reported for this vaccine.
Since 2001, Dr. Alexander G. Salerno has led Salerno Medical Associates in East Orange, New Jersey. Dr. Alexander Salerno focuses largely on urban communities and on delivering patient education about both medical and behavioral health issues.