(Source: CDC) Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body in a dormant (inactive) state. For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles. Almost 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster. There are an estimated 1 million cases each year in this country. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles; even children can get shingles. However the risk of disease increases as a person gets older. About half of all cases occur among men and women 60 years old or older.
Who should get the shingles vaccine?
CDC recommends Zostavax for use in people 60 years old and older to prevent shingles. This is a one-time vaccination. There is no maximum age for getting the shingles vaccine.
Anyone 60 years of age or older should get the shingles vaccine, regardless of whether they recall having had chickenpox or not. Studies show that more than 99% of Americans ages 40 and older have had chickenpox, even if they don’t remember getting the disease.
Even if you have had shingles, you can still receive the shingles vaccine to help prevent future occurrences of the disease. There is no specific time that you must wait after having shingles before receiving the shingles vaccine. The decision on when to get vaccinated should be made with your health care provider. Generally, a person should make sure that the shingles rash has disappeared before getting vaccinated.
All Medicare Part D plans cover the shingles vaccine. The amount of cost-sharing (money you have to pay) for vaccination varies.
Medicare Part B does not cover the shingles vaccine. Medicaid may or may not cover the vaccine; contact your insurer to find out.
Most private health insurance plans cover the vaccine for people 60 years of age or older, while some plans cover the vaccine for people 50 to 59 years of age.
Some pharmaceutical companies provide vaccines to eligible adults who cannot afford them. For information on the patient assistance program that includes Zostavax (shingles vaccine), seehttp://www.merck.com/merckhelps/vaccines/home.html
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/index.html
Key Point 1
Shingles is a viral infection that can vary in severity. Early treatment can shorten the infection and can also decrease the chance of complications.
Key Point 2
While shingles is not necessarily life threatening, it can cause life-threatening complications, and also postherpetic neauralgia, which can leave you in pain for many years. The best way to prevent ever getting shingles is to get the shingles vaccine.