The CDC recently endorsed the new shingles vaccine produced by GlaxoSmithKline. Approved by the FDA last October, the vaccine consists of two doses to be administered 2-6 months apart. The CDC recommends adults aged 50 years and older get the new vaccine.

The vaccine’s brand name is Shingrix. It is marketed to replace the existing shingles vaccine, Zostavax.

What is Shingles?

Shingles is a painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It’s the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once you have chickenpox, the virus never actually leaves your body. It lies dormant in your central nervous system, and “reactivates” in response to unknown triggers. The virus travels down your nerve fibers and infects a nerve ending, resulting in shingles. It’s most common in older people, although anyone who has previously had chickenpox is at risk.

Shingles is not technically contagious. It can’t be passed from one person to another, according to the CDC. However, the varicella-zoster virus can spread from someone with an active case of shingles if their rash is not covered.

There are about 1 million cases of shingles every year in the United States. Estimates put 1 in 3 people developing shingles during their lifetimes.

Symptoms include pain with a blistering skin rash, isolated to one area of the body. It usually presents on the face or ears. Other major symptoms are fever, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, and nausea.

New recommendations for a new vaccine

The elderly tend to have a more difficult time recovering from a bout of shingles. The rash generally clears up within 2-4 weeks, but some people have lingering pain for months after the episode. Older people are at higher risk for lingering pain and other complications.

The previous shingles vaccine was a single-dose vaccine, Zostavax, recommended for anyone 60 and older. The threshold for the new vaccine, Shingrix, is 50 and up.

The CDC says even people who have already gotten the previous vaccine or already had shingles can receive Shingrix to prevent a future outbreak. The 2-dose vaccine is 90 percent effective at preventing shingles. By contrast, the previous vaccine, Zostavax, was just 51 percent effective.

If you haven’t received a shingles vaccine recently, speak with your doctor about getting it today. Ask your doctor to confirm your insurance will cover it, since it’s a new vaccine and may not be covered yet.

To learn more about the Shingrix vaccine, visit the CDC’s Shingles Vaccination page.


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