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Shingles Vaccination

Posted Oct 01 2008 4:31pm
As reported by the New York Times, and elsewhere, the CDC just recommended that all adults over 60 received the shingles vaccine.
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. When you get chicken pox as a child, the virus stays around dormant for years in the nerve roots in your spinor cord. Years later, when your immune system is weakened, the virus can reactivate and cause a very painful rash. (The wikipedia entry is actually quite qood for more information). Though the rash and pain usually resolve in a few weeks, about 20% of patients will develop post-herpetic neuralgia, which means that the pain keeps coming back. This can be quite debilitating.

This shingles vaccine is called Zostavax (made by Merk). It is now recommeded for adults 60 years of age and older even if they have had a prior episode of shingles. It only prevents half the cases (slightly more in the 60-69 group). However, given the likelihood of getting shingles (about 1/3 will get this at some point) and the potential severity of the disease, the recommendation seems warranted.

What you should do:
1. Get the shingles vaccine (Zostavax) if you are 60 or older. Even if you have had shingles, even if you are sure you haven't ever had chicken pox.
2. Check with your insurance company to see if it is covered. More and more insurances are covering this, and most should fall in line after this recent recommendation. However, you may need to get this pre-approved. It's about $200 out of pocket. It is covered under Medicare Part D.
3. Find out if your doctor give the vaccine and how. The vaccine has to be stored in a special freezer and needs to be given soon after it has been mixed for injection. Thus, not all offices are giving this yet. There may be a pharmacy in your area that is giving this out.
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