Getting vaccinated for COVID-19? Flu? If you’re over 50, don’t forget shingles shot

Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 6:13 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 5, 2021 at 7:43 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Yeah, I know. It’s enough to make you feel like a human pin cushion with all the different shots you’re being encouraged to get.

But on the other hand it’s nice to know that modern medicine has made vaccines available to keep us from getting ill should we choose to get them.

And while local health agencies have been emphasizing the need to get vaccinated against COVID-19, they also are encouraging older people to get inoculations against a painful skin rash that will strike one-in-three people during their lifetimes, shingles.

Shingles is most common in people age 50-and-older and is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you have chickenpox, the virus stays in your body and can cause shingles later in life. It can strike at any age, but generally as you get older your chances increase.

“Typically once you’ve been exposed to the chickenpox virus it remains dormant in your body for many years,” explained Dr. Nancy Yoon, the Chief Medical Officer for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. “So even if you had the chickenpox as a child, the shingles may not develop for 30-40 years. It becomes more common when people’s immune system starts declining. So if they have underlying medical problems or even a lot of stress, it can contribute to an outbreak of shingles.”

At the Republic Branch Library on Tuesday the Springfield-Greene County Health Department was giving out free shots of the shingles vaccine and Republic resident Joyce Hurd made sure she was there.

“I had shingles 12 years-ago and I remember it well,” she said. “It’s painful. You can’t hardly stand to wear clothes. It felt like a sunburn and the burning and stinging is why I came for a shot. I don’t want that again.”

In addition to a rash or blisters, shingles can cause fever, headache, chills and upset stomach. The red splotches most often appear along your waist, torso or head but it can invade areas like your eye and brain as well.

“It could cause blindness,” Yoon said. “It could even cause a severe brain infection which is encephalitis. It can cause pneumonia or hearing problems or even death.”

The current vaccine, administered in two doses, is fairly new and an improvement over the previous versions. It’s between 90 and 97 percent effective depending on your age.

So who should get it?

“It is recommended for everyone 50 years-and-older,” Yoon said.

Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another but the virus that causes shingles can spread and cause chickenpox in someone who’s never that illness.

If you’ve never had chickenpox, you can’t get shingles.

“But you remain susceptible to getting chickenpox,” Yoon said. “So while you won’t get shingles it is recommended that you get the chickenpox vaccine.”

The most common complication of shingles is long-term nerve pain that persists even after the rash has cleared up. It can last for months or years and the pain can be severe and debilitating. About 10-18 percent of the people who get shingles will have long-term nerve pain and that risk increases with age.

Signs of having shingles can be a rash on one side of the body or lots of different round areas that are raised like blisters or vesicles. Early signs can be pain, itching or tingling (as in a sensation that something is wrong on that side of the body).

Shingles can be treated with anti-viral medicine but Joyce advises to avoid it all together.

“Get your vaccination,” she said.

There is a shingles vaccination program for Greene County residents over 60 years-old that’s funded by the Greene County Senior Citizen Service Fund Board. Vaccinations are given at the Springfield-Greene County Health Department and through a partnership with Jordan Valley Community Health Center. Call 417-831-0150 for more information about the shingles vaccine.

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