In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved Zostavax, a vaccine for adults that is used as a prevention strategy against shingles.

Julie Lucas, a physician assistant at the University of South Alabama Knollwood Physicians Group, said shingles is very common and can be prevented. She recommends the shingles vaccine to adults over the age of 60.

“The vaccine works, and I've seen many unnecessary cases of shingles that are very painful and debilitating,” she said.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection that causes a painful, blistering skin rash. “In some cases it can cause blindness if the virus occurs in the eye or deafness if it arises in the ear,” Lucas said. “It can also cause post-herpetic neuralgia, which is severe pain lasting months within the rash site.”

According to Lucas, shingles is a re-activation of the old chicken pox virus that stays in the body – locked away in the nerve roots by the immune system.

“Sometimes as we age or if our immune system gets distracted by things such as illness or stress, the virus can resurface and cause shingles,” Lucas said.

Lucas said the shingles vaccine is a one-time vaccination that stimulates the immune system to keep the virus “locked up.” Although the vaccine does not guarantee prevention, it will likely reduce its severity if the virus were to reappear.

According to Lucas, the highest risk groups for shingles are those over the age of 60 or in those who have a weakened immune system because of other diseases such as diabetes. Even if you have had shingles, you can still receive the shingles vaccine to help prevent future occurrences.

Because the vaccine is a live virus, Lucas said it should not be given to those who are immunosuppressed such as those on cancer chemotherapy or anyone with leukemia, lymphoma, or AIDS.

The most common side effect of the shingles vaccine is pain in the injection site. Although uncommon, additional side effects can include a headache and low grade fever, which can last 12-24 hours.

The shingles vaccine is available at University Physicians Group to anyone over the age of 50. To make an appointment, call (251) 660-5787.

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