October 19, 2018
Doctor Giving Male Patient Injection

Shingles Vaccine: Two More Benefits

by Berkeley Wellness  

About one-third of people develop shingles during their lives. Characterized by a painful, blistering rash, it is caused by the same herpes virus, varicella-zoster, that causes chickenpox. After you have that childhood disease, the virus stays dormant in your body and can re-emerge years later to cause shingles.

Fortunately, there’s a vaccine that reduces the risk of developing shingles by as much as two-thirds and reduces the severity of an outbreak if one does occur. Getting vaccinated may save you grief in two other ways as well, recent studies have suggested.

Reduced risk of nerve pain

According to a study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, the vaccine reduces the risk of a debilitating complication of shingles called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), defined as pain persisting more than three months after the crusting of the skin lesions. It looked at 1,155 unvaccinated people and 1,155 vaccinated people who all developed the illness. Vaccinated women were about 60 percent less likely to be treated for PHN than unvaccinated women. Vaccination did not seem to reduce PHN in men but, as the researchers explained, the findings could have been skewed because men are less likely than women to seek treatment for chronic pain.

Avoiding higher stroke risk

Two studies in late 2015 linked shingles to an increased risk of stroke. One, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that people with shingles (average age 68) had a 50 percent elevated risk of stroke during the next three months. That worked out to about three extra strokes per 1,000 people—not many, but still a concern. The other study, published in PLOS Medicine, found that stroke risk more than doubled during the first week of shingles (heart attacks also increased somewhat).

An English study in Clinical Infectious Diseases in 2014 offered some good news, however. While it also showed that strokes increased during the first few months of developing shingles, it found that antiviral drugs appear to counter this risk. These drugs should be taken as soon as possible during a shingles outbreak.

The best way to prevent a shingles-related stroke, of course, is to prevent shingles in the first place by being vaccinated. The CDC recommends the shingles vaccine for people ages 60 and older. It is covered by most private insurance and by Medicare Part D, the federal drug program for people over 65.