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Preventing shingles

New vaccine is for adults age 50 and older

Shingles, also referred to as herpes zoster, is a painful rash that develops as the result of reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). VZV is responsible for varicella infection, more commonly known as chickenpox.

Even after chickenpox resolves, the virus remains in the body and presents again later in life as shingles. The shingles rash can be extremely painful and result in pain that lasts even after the rash is gone.

The most effective way to treat herpes zoster infection is prevention through vaccination. The pain associated with the rash can be difficult to treat, and the vaccine is an effective way to prevent recurrence of the inactive virus.

In October 2017, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new vaccine, called Shingrix, to prevent shingles in adults 50 years of age and older. There are two main differences between this new vaccine and the previous vaccine used for shingles, called Zostavax. 

First, patients will need two vaccine shots to be fully protected with Shingrix: the first dose, followed by a second two to six months later. Second, unlike Zostavax, it is not a live vaccine. This means it should be even safer for patients. Clinical trials showed the new vaccine is significantly more effective and longer-lasting than the previous vaccines.

The American Council on Immunization Practices, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends that Shingrix be given to all healthy adults 50 or older without any contraindications, including patients who have received Zostavax previously. 

The Shingrix vaccine is now available nationwide. If you are potentially eligible for this vaccine, talk to your health care provider or pharmacist to see if it will be appropriate for you.

Dr. Clark Kebodeaux is assistant professor in the University of Kentucky Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science. 

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