Over 50? You Need This Vaccine to Protect Your Vision
SAN FRANCISCO: Shingles is no longer just an older person's disease. Nearly one out of every three people in the United States will develop shingles (herpes zoster), with the greatest number of cases occurring in people in their 50s.
Early symptoms are pain, itching, and tingling of the skin. Redness and numbness lead to a rash. Blisters break open and form scabs. Though the blisters and scabs can last a few weeks, the pain can last much longer, especially in older patients age 65 years and above. While the pain usually resolves in a few weeks or months, it can be severe and debilitating. For some patients, the pain lasts many years, interfering with daily life.
If the virus infects the nerves of the eye, it can lead to:
Rash on your eyelids;
Infection and inflammation of the cornea (front of the eye);
Blurry vision and sensitivity to bright light;
Pain and swelling inside the eye;
Swelling of the optic nerve behind your eye; and
Breakdown of the cornea so severe it requires a corneal transplant.
"Just do it. That's what I tell my patients," said Dianna L. Seldomridge, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "The vaccine is safe and effective. The health consequences of going unvaccinated are significant, as are the economic costs. The medical costs from treating shingles and it complications are estimated to be $1 billion."
The herpes zoster virus is the same virus that causes chicken pox. More than 95 percent of people born in the United States who are older than 40 have had chicken pox. The virus lingers in the body and can be reactivated as shingles many years later. This can be due to your body's natural aging process. Or it can be due to anything that weakens your immune system.
It is unclear why the risk has increased by almost 70 percent in the past 15 years. But it is clear that shingles is no longer just an older person's disease. Research shows that the risk goes up after age 40 and rises sharply at age 50.
Unfortunately, only 33.4 percent of eligible people age 60 and older are vaccinated, and approximately 5 percent of people age 50 to 59, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The CDC recommends that healthy adults 50 years and older get two doses of the shingles vaccine called Shingrix, between two to six months apart. A doctor or pharmacist can give Shingrix as a shot in the upper arm. The CDC also recommends Shingrix even if you've had shingles in the past, are unsure if you have had chickenpox, or if you received an older shingles vaccine called Zostavax. There is no maximum age for getting Shingrix.