| Tue, May 30, 2017 @ 09:00 AM

Shingles: Should I Get Vaccinated?

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

elderly-man-sitting-at-barber-shopShingles, also referred to as herpes zoster, is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Even after the chickenpox is gone, the virus stays inside the body and can “wake up” years later and cause shingles.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will get shingles. There are an estimated 1 million cases each year in this country. About half of all cases happen to men and women 60 years old or older.

There is no cure for shingles, but there are medicines to help lessen symptoms and shorten the length of the infection. Getting vaccinated can help prevent getting shingles at all.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

  •  The first symptoms of shingles are usually pain and burning. The pain is usually on one side of the body and generally occurs in small patches.
  •  An itchy, red rash typically follows. The rash can wrap around from the spine to the torso. It can also occur on the face and ears.
  •  Eventually, the rash can turn into fluid-filled blisters that break and form a crust.

Some people experience other symptoms as well, including fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle weakness or an upset stomach.

Most cases of shingles clear up within two to four weeks. Shingles rarely recurs more than once in the same individual.

Complications from Shingles

Complications are rare, however they can occur. Complications may include:

  • long-term pain as a result of nerve damage
  • bacterial skin infection
  • vision loss if the shingles occurs near or in the eye
  • Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which occurs when shingles affects a facial nerve, causing facial paralysis and hearing loss
  • death

Who’s at Risk?

Shingles can occur in anyone who has had chickenpox. However, there are certain factors that can increase the risk for some people, including:

  • being 60 or older
  • having had chickenpox before the age of 1
  • having a disease that weaken the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS or cancer
  • having had chemotherapy or radiation treatment
  • taking drugs that weaken the immune system, such as steroids or medications given after an organ transplant

Prevention is Key

Adults who have never had chickenpox should get the chickenpox vaccine.  The vaccine does not always mean that you won’t get chickenpox, but it can help reduce the severity of your symptoms.

Adults who are age 60 or older should get a shingles vaccine. This vaccine can help prevent severe shingles symptoms or complications from shingles.

The vaccine may even help people who have already had shingles by helping to prevent them from getting it again.

Does Medicare Pay for the Vaccine?

Medicare Part D plans cover the shingles vaccine; however, you may have to pay a copayment. Many private health insurance plans also cover the vaccine for people age 60 and over. Some plans cover the vaccine for people age 50 to 59. Talk to your plan provider to find out if you are covered for the vaccine.

Talk to your doctor to find out if you should get vaccinated or if you have questions about the disease.

For more information, explore Medicare Made Clear or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.

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