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Should You Get a Shingles Vaccine Along with Your Flu Shot?

Shingles are painful to endure, but outbreaks can be prevented and symptoms can be managed with antiviral medications. 

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, will impact one out of three adults in their lifetime. A vaccination against shingles is available to anyone that contracted chickenpox, also known as the varicella-zoster virus, in the past. Shingles primarily affects those over the age of 50 and risk continues to increase with age.

With flu season beginning, many older adults are asking whether or not they should sign up for the shingles vaccine at the same time as their flu vaccine.

What are Shingles?

Shingles is a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus that causes a painful rash that typically develops on one side of the body, often on the face or the torso. The rash is comprised of blisters that scab over in 7 to 10 days and typically heal and clear within 2 to 4 weeks.

Pain can persist for months after the rash clears, leaving many patients suffering from an intense burning sensation. This pain, referred to as postherpetic neuralgia, is the most common complication of shingles.

Additional symptoms that may accompany shingles include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Upset stomach

Complications related to shingles include:

  • Skin infection
  • Eye complications
  • Eye inflammation
  • Retinal inflammation
  • Ear inflammation
  • Complications due to immunosuppression
  • Chronic pain

Recommendations Regarding the Shingles Vaccine

The CDC encourages healthy adults 50 years of age or older be vaccinated for shingles. There are currently two vaccines approved to prevent shingles and complications related to shingles. The zoster live vaccine (ZVL, Zostavax) has been used in the United States since 2006, but the recently developed recombinant zoster vaccine (RZV, Shingrix) is now recommended as the first line of defense against shingles.

The CDC recommends that healthy adults receive two doses of Shingrix, spaced 2 to 6 months apart, in order to prevent shingles and related complications. The Shingrix vaccine is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and long-term pain associated with the rash. It is generally safe to receive the Shingrix vaccine at the same time as the flu vaccine, but they must be administered in different areas of the body.

It is suggested that those at-risk for shingles receive the Shingrix vaccine, even if in the past they:

  • Have had shingles
  • Received Zostavax
  • Are not sure whether or not they have had chickenpox

Most insurers cover the cost of the shingles vaccine for those 60 years of age or older.

Managing Shingles Symptoms

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Those suffering from shingles outbreaks can manage symptoms using medications such as acyclovir or valacyclovir. These antiviral medications can prevent the varicella virus from multiplying, speed the healing of the shingles rash, and reduce the intensity and length of pain associated with shingles. Antiviral medication is recommended for anyone with shingles and is typically most effective when given within 72 hours of the initial onset of shingles symptoms.

Knowing the symptoms of shingles is important to accessing and administering treatment in order to prevent complications associated with shingles. While antiviral medication does not cure shingles, it can make a remarkable difference in managing shingles symptoms. The combination of antiviral medications, such as acyclovir or valacyclovir, with home remedies, such as wet compresses, over-the-counter pain medication, and calamine lotion, is optimal for treating shingles.

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Shelby is a public health professional with research and field experience in sexual and reproductive health. She holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).