Last year, nearly 1 million Americans experienced herpes zoster, or shingles, a disease that causes a painful skin rash. In addition, shingles can lead to severe pain that can last for months or years after the rash disappears.
"If you are age 60 or older, we recommend you get the shingles vaccine," said Southwest Health District Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant. "Along with post-herpetic neuralgia â" the severe pain that lingers after the rash goes away â" shingles can cause eye problems, depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite and weight loss."
The pain has been described as excruciating, shock-like, burning and aching. It has been compared to having kidney stones or giving birth.
"Shingles can interfere with activities of daily living like bathing, shopping, getting dressed, traveling and eating," Grant said.
The disease is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus responsible for chickenpox. After someone recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant â" in a "sleeping state" â" in the body, only to reactivate without warning years later.
Almost one out of three people in the United States will develop shingles in his or her lifetime, Grant said.
"Older people are at greater risk of developing it, with about half the cases occurring in people 60 or older," Grant said. "Shingles can't be passed from one person to another. However, a person with shingles can pass the virus on to somebody else. If a person who has never had chickenpox before is infected with it, they will develop chickenpox, not shingles."
The only protection against shingles is to get vaccinated.
"Adults 60 or older can receive a single dose of the shingles vaccine, Zostavax, which is available at your local health department," Grant said.
At this time, National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have a recommendation for routine use of shingles vaccine in persons 50 through 59 years old. However, the vaccine is approved by FDA for people 50 and older. It is available by prescription from a healthcare professional.