Your board-certified dermatologists at Skin Associates of South Florida want to emphasize how important it is for those over 60 to receive a shingles vaccine, not only to guard against the possibility of developing this extremely painful illness, but also to head off the complications that can follow.
Shingles is caused by reactivation of the same virus that causes Chicken Pox. It is estimated that a third of Americans will develop shingles at some point in their lifetime, with the risk increasing with age. It can start as non-specific pain in one area and sometimes it may take several weeks for the rash to appear. The rash is generally located in one “dermatome” which is one side of the body in a linear patter and is accompanied by pain, burning, numbness or tingling, itching, and sensitivity to touch. Although it is usually confined to a small section on one side of the body, it can cause a great deal of misery relative to its size.
The rash and scabs will generally clear up within two to four weeks, but may leave some scarring. The worst part of shingles, however, is the potentially painful aftermath. The Posterpetic neuralgia (PHN), or nerve pain has been described as feeling like needles piercing the skin, or it may take the form of aching, burning, or stabbing. Others describe it as feeling like a migraine headache, appendicitis, or even a constant heart attack. This period lasts at least 30 days, but has been known to continue for months and even years. The PHN stage can prove quite debilitating, with sufferers being unable to eat, sleep, work, or carry on much of their daily activities.
This good news is that all of this suffering can be lessened or even prevented. A report published last month in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases emphasized the importance of the shingles vaccine, particularly in warding off the resulting complications. The report released findings from an FDA-funded study that showed the vaccine was 74% effective in preventing hospitalizations for three years following vaccination. The number dropped to 55% effectiveness after four or more years. It also found the vaccination was 57% effective for preventing lasting pain for three years after it was given, and 45% effective after four or more years. The study reviewed data collected between 2007 and 2014, and included approximately two million Medicare beneficiaries.
“The fact that we found relatively high effectiveness against serious outcomes, such as hospitalization and [lasting pain], and that protection from these outcomes was sustained over time, adds to the considerable evidence that the vaccine is beneficial and that seniors should be encouraged to be vaccinated in higher numbers than what is happening currently,”study author Dr. Hector Izurieta said in a journal news release.
Although the shingles vaccine is recommended for those 60 and older, a 2014 CDC study found that just 28% of adults in that age group had received the vaccine. Your dermatologists at Skin Associates of South Florida recommend the shingles vaccine to their patients to help prevent shingles/PHN.