Grace E. Ahn, MD FACR
Shingles is an infection caused by a virus called varicella. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once the virus enters your body, it can stay dormant in your nerves and reactivate at a later time, causing an infection called herpes zoster, more commonly known as shingles. Patients can develop a painful, raised, and sometimes fluid-filled rash in the same area in which the patient felt pain preceding the rash. The rash and pain often are treated with antiviral and pain medications, depending on the severity of the symptoms. Often, those infected can go on to have post-herpetic neuralgia, characterized by lasting chronic pain in the regions where they had the infection.
For the past 12 years, Zostavax, a drug originally approved in 2006, was the only available vaccine. Zostavax is a live virus vaccine approved for those above age 50. In October, 2017, the FDA approved a new vaccine called Shingrix. This is a recombinant (genetically engineered) vaccine that is non-live. According to the CDC, Shingrix reduced the incidence of shingles by 97% in those aged 60 to 69, and 91% in those above age 70. In comparison, Zostavax showed reduced incidence of shingles by 64% in those aged 60 to 69, and 41% in those above age 70. Shingrix also has been shown to reduce the incidence of post-herpetic neuralgia by 89% for those above 70. Zostavax is a live vaccine and cannot be given to patients on immunosuppressive therapy. Shingrix is non-live and appears to be safe for that population of patients.
Compared to Zostavax, Shingrix has been shown to cause more local injection site reactions. Common side effects are pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site, as well as muscle pain, tiredness, headache, shivering, fever, and upset stomach. It is important to note that Shingrix is given in a two-dose series, with the second dose given two to six months after the first vaccine.
If you have a question about whether you should get the Shingrixvaccine, please talk to your doctor. Shingrix is available at each of our six office locations. Visit WashingtonArthritis.com to learn more.