Shutting down shingles

shutting_down_shinglesContrary to popular belief, shingles is not rare. About a million new cases of shingles are reported in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The shingles vaccine could decrease that number significantly, though, as more and more people are learning how to protect themselves against the disease.

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful disease that causes a rash (red patches or blisters) on your body—typically on your torso, but the rash can also appear on your extremities and even on your face. It starts as a tingle and progresses from there. These symptoms are extremely painful. The pain from shingles can last for weeks—even years.

Shingles is not the same thing as chickenpox. However, they are related. The same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella zoster) also causes shingles. Anyone who has had chickenpox may develop shingles. That means that about 95 percent of American adults are at risk, the CDC reports.

Shingles is more common in older people, but it can also occur in healthy young people—even children, according to CBSNews. Other people at risk include those who have ailments that compromise the immune system, like HIV/AIDS or cancer. You are also more likely to develop shingles if you are stressed, injured or are taking certain medications.

While you cannot catch shingles from someone who has chickenpox, you can catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles. Shingles is very contagious.

“You don’t catch shingles from another person with shingles,” says Donna McKown, nurse practitioner at the Kansas City Health Care Trust Employee Clinic. “A person who has never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine could get chickenpox from a person who has shingles. This doesn’t happen commonly, though.”

Reducing your risk

The CDC recommends that people who are 60 years old and older should be vaccinated against shingles. A single dose of the vaccine can cut your chances in half for developing shingles. And if you’ve already had shingles, the vaccine can help prevent it from coming back.

So what are you waiting for? If you are a City employee or retiree, you can receive your shingles vaccine at the KC Employee Clinic. The vaccine is free if you are 60 years of age or older. The clinic does recommend that you make an appointment to get this vaccine to ensure that it is in stock and available.

You should not get the shingles vaccine if you:

  • Have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin or any other component of the vaccine
  • Have a weakened immune system caused by AIDS or other diseases that impact the immune system
  • Are being treated with drugs that affect the immune system, such as prolonged use of high-dose steroids
  • Are receiving cancer treatment, such as radiation or chemotherapy