Shingles vaccine: A new way to shake the infection

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Just when you thought you were safe from shingles, think again.

If you're over 50 and had chickenpox as a kid, the herpes zoster virus is lurking in your nerves. As you age, your immune system weakens, making you vulnerable for the virus to pop up as painful shingles blisters.

Rustan Sharer, MD, of the HonorHealth Medical Group offers advice about a new vaccine recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Q: I got a shingles shot a few years ago. Doesn't it protect me?

A: If you got the Zostavax vaccine after its introduction in 2006, you reduced your risk of developing shingles by 51 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. However, after five years, Zostavax wears off. The CDC recommends that you get the new Shingrix vaccine in two doses, at least eight weeks apart, if you're 50 or older, whether or not you remember having had chickenpox. Your doctor should have the vaccine by the end of November 2017.

Q: I've already had shingles. Can I get it again?

A: Yes, you can. If you had it recently, make sure the shingles rash has disappeared before you get the new vaccine.

Q: Is shingles so bad?

A: It can be pretty painful. And it's not pretty. One in five people with shingles develops post-herpetic neuralgia — nerve pain that continues for months or years. It's wise to avoid it. The CDC says 1 million Americans a year get it.

Q: Does the new vaccine have any side effects?

A: It has the potential for side effects, but they appear to be minor. The vaccine may cause pain during injection and at the injection site for up to three days. Headache, shivering, fever and an upset stomach are possible but less likely.

Q: Will my insurance cover the cost of two shots?

A: Because the vaccine is new to the market, you should call your insurance company ahead of time to make sure.

Need a primary care physician who lives near you? Find a doctor or visit honorhealth.com/primarycare.