WASHINGTON – It’s caused by the same virus that spurs chickenpox, but doctors say shingles is a whole different ballgame.
About 1 million Americans get shingles each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People who have had chickenpox are at risk, since the virus that causes chickenpox remains inactive in the body once the itchy infection goes away.
If the virus reactivates, the tell-tale shingles rash is often accompanied by pain.
“Because it is in the nerve, it can be incredibly painful for some people,” says Dr. Jessica Rosen, an infectious disease specialist at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital.
The pain can remain long after the rash goes away.
“The older someone is when they get shingles, the more likely they are to have pain that lingers and is debilitating after the shingles itself goes away,” Rosen says.
About 200,000 people ages 50 to 59 get shingles in the United States each year, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
There is a vaccine, but it is usually prescribed only for patients over age 60. The FDA has deemed the vaccine safe for 50- to 59-year-olds, but a formal recommendation from the CDC is still pending.
The vaccine has not been tested among younger individuals, who are at a lower risk for getting shingles.
Rosen says she would not recommend the vaccine for anyone under age 50, but for seniors, it is a no-brainer. She adds that she has recommended it for her own parents.
The vaccine can have a few side effects, including redness, pain and swelling at the site of the injection, just like a flu shot.
The biggest drawback may be the price. The shingles vaccine can cost several hundred dollars, and some insurers don’t cover it.
“It can be cost prohibitive for some folks,” Rosen says.
However, Rosen says people who are eligible for the shingles vaccine should get it because the benefits are worth it.