Group of senior friends

Shingles: What you need to know

We sat down with pharmacist Ryan Maples, PharmD, to talk shingles.

What are shingles?
Shingles is a painful skin rash, sometimes with blisters. It is also called herpes zoster, or just zoster. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Who is at the highest risk?
It is most common in people over age 50, people who have a weakened immune system, or those who have had chickenpox (even a mild case that may not have been recognized as the disease).

What are the symptoms?
The rash can last anywhere from two to four weeks, and usually appears on one side of the face or body. However, the main symptom is severe nerve pain. Some severe cases can lead to hearing problems and blindness.

Is it contagious?
No, shingles is not spread from one person to another. However, although very rare, a person who has never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine could get chickenpox from someone with shingles.

When should I get a shingles vaccine?
You should discuss this with your doctor first. The vaccine is approved for the prevention of herpes zoster in individuals 50 years of age and older.

Is there anyone who should avoid getting a shingles vaccine?
Yes, anyone who is allergic to gelatin and neomycin. Also, people with weakened immune systems due to:

  • AIDS or diseases affecting the immune system
  • Drugs that affect the immune system (a person who has been on high dose steroids for a long period of time)
  • Radiation or chemotherapy

Is the vaccine 100 percent effective?
No, according to the CDC the vaccine reduced the risk of shingles by 50 percent. However, the vaccine can reduce the pain in people who still develop shingles after vaccination.

Are there actions you can take to reduce the likelihood of getting shingles?
Get vaccinated! It is important to discuss this with a healthcare professional.

How to get a shingles vaccine

For more information about vaccinations, contact your primary care doctor or visit a Walgreens pharmacy at Community hospitals.