Why Older Adults Should Consider Getting The Shingles Vaccine

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Patient holds right side with his hand in tilted position. Concept photo of pain in right side of abdomen due to diseases of kidneys, large intestine, pathology of nerve roots, radiculopathy shingles

If you have had chickenpox in the past, you are at higher risk of developing shingles, a painful rash most commonly affecting older adults and people with weakened immune systems.

Shingles can develop when the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the virus that causes chickenpox, is awakened in the body. Shingles can occur anywhere on the body, but most often appears on the torso including the waist, chest, abdomen, or back.  

“When someone has shingles, they can find it hard to function,” said SreeniVasa Murthy, M.D., who practices family medicine at McLaren Greater Lansing – Mid-Michigan Physicians Internal Medicine Associates. “It becomes painful to do anything.”

Symptoms can take two to four weeks to fully clear, but complications may last longer even after the rash is gone. For instance, patients who have had an outbreak on their face near their eyes may subsequently experience vision problems such as keratitis. Shingles near the ear can result in Ramsay Hunt Syndrome

The shingles vaccine, which is recommended for people who have had the chickenpox and are 50 years of age or older, requires two shots that are administered two to six months apart. Studies have shown it to be 97 percent effective in preventing adults ages 50-69 from getting shingles, and 91 percent effective in those who are 70 or older.

“I’m talking to people regularly,” said Dr. Murthy. “I explain to them how important it is to get vaccinated, because of the possibility of pain, scarring, and other possible complications.”

The vaccine also decreases the chances of a person getting postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a prolonged pain that can affect one in five people who get shingles. The pain occurs in the same area where the rash appeared and is caused by nerve fibers beneath the skin surface sustaining damage during the shingles infection. It can be a debilitating condition that lasts weeks, months, or longer.

“It’s not a fun thing to have,” said Dr. Murthy. “If you can avoid it by getting the vaccine, it is something you should consider.”

If you are 50 years of age or older and have had the chickenpox, speak with your primary care provider about the shingles vaccine. For a list of primary care physicians at McLaren Greater Lansing accepting new patients, click here.

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About McLaren Greater Lansing

McLaren Greater Lansing and McLaren Orthopedic Hospital operate the region’s most distinguished cardiovascular and orthopedic surgery programs that—together with McLaren Greater Lansing’s oncology, women’s care and wide-ranging diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical services—consistently lead in clinical quality and efficiency. The hospitals are part of McLaren Health Care, mid-Michigan’s largest health care system. Visit mclaren.org/lansing.

About McLaren Health Care                        

McLaren Health Care, headquartered in Grand Blanc, Michigan, is a fully integrated health network committed to quality, evidence-based patient care and cost efficiency. The McLaren system includes 14 hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, imaging centers, a 490-member employed primary and specialty care physician network, commercial and Medicaid HMOs covering more than 620,000 lives in Michigan and Indiana, home health and hospice providers, retail medical equipment showrooms, pharmacy services, and a wholly owned medical malpractice insurance company. McLaren operates Michigan’s largest network of cancer centers and providers, anchored by the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, one of only 49 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the U.S. McLaren has 26,000 employees and more than 85,500 network providers. Its operations are housed in more than 350 facilities serving Michigan and Indiana.

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