Shingles, also known as herpes zoster after the virus that causes the condition, may occur in anyone who has had chickenpox. Besides shingles being a painful condition, there may be complications such as postherpetic neuralgia to endure. Since 2006, a shingles vaccine is available for adults, but like any medication, the vaccine is not without its pros and cons, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).
Zostavax, the herpes zoster vaccine for adults, is a stronger version of the vaccine given to prevent chickenpox (UMMC). The University of Maryland Medical Center and Mayo Clinic advise that current unnamed study results have shown Zostavax to prevent half of all shingles diagnoses and two-thirds of postherpetic neuralgia diagnoses.
These results suggest that while the shingles vaccine may not prevent all incidences of shingles in those who have received the vaccine, the vaccine lessens the duration and severity of the condition, including its most severe complication.
The shingles vaccine is a live attenuated (weakened) virus given in one injection, recommended for people age 60 years and older, according to UMMC. People age 80 years and older have not shown the same response to the shingles vaccine; the vaccine is generally not recommended for use in this age group (UMMC).
The most commonly noted side effects to the vaccination are redness, tenderness, and/or swelling at the injection site and headaches.
Private insurance and Medicare may not pay for the shingles vaccine.
People who should not take the vaccine, as recommended by the Mayo Clinic are: those who are allergic to any of the vaccines components, gelatin or neomycin; have a weakened immune system or immune system disorder; those taking radiation or chemotherapy; are on certain medication regimens such as Humira, Enbrel or Remicade; have a history of cancer involving the bone marrow or lymph system; have untreated tuberculosis; are pregnant or attempting to become pregnant.
In some instances, people who have received the shingles vaccine develop a rash that looks like chickenpox or shingles. In theory, while the rash is present, it may be possible to spread the herpes zoster virus to others. People with the rash should avoid contact with pregnant women and children who have not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine.
The Merck Manual relates that fewer than 4 percent of people who have a shingles outbreak will ever experience another, but postherpetic neuralgia develops in many people, particularly the elderly.
Postherpetic neuralgia presents as continued or recurrent pain in the site where the shingles outbreak occurred. This may happen for weeks, months, years or a lifetime. The pain associated with this complication may be severe enough to become debilitating.
Due to the susceptibility of those 60 years and older for the development of postherpetic neuralgia, this population is encouraged to receive the shingles vaccine—whether they have ever had shingles or not.