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Tuesday February 7, 2023

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Can COVID-19 Cause Shingles?

How effective is the shingles vaccine and what is the CDC's recommendation for getting it? My older siblings, both in their fifties, contracted COVID a few months back followed by shingles. Do you know if there is a connection between these viruses, and would the shingles vaccine have protected them?

Many healthcare professionals across the country have been urging their older patients to get the shingles vaccine (in addition to the COVID-19 vaccinations) during the pandemic because getting COVID-19 can increase your chances of developing shingles. The more severe case of COVID you get, the greater your risk for shingles.

The reason for this is because when you contract COVID-19 your immune system becomes compromised fighting off the virus, which gives shingles – a virus that already exists in your body if you have had chickenpox – a chance to reactivate.

Here is what you should know about shingles, the shingles vaccine, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.

What are Shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a burning, blistering skin rash that affects around one million Americans each year. The same virus that causes chickenpox causes shingles. The chickenpox virus that most people contract as children never leaves the body. Rather, it hides in the nerve cells near the spinal cord and for some people, it will emerge later in the form of shingles.

In the U.S., about one out of every three people will develop shingles during their lifetime. While anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, it most commonly occurs in people over the age of 50 and those with weakened immune systems. However, the virus is not contagious and it is not possible to catch shingles from someone else.

Early signs of the disease include pain, itching or tingling before a blistering rash appears several days later, and can last up to four weeks. The rash typically occurs on one side of the body, often as a band of blisters that extends from the middle of your back around to the breastbone. It can also appear above an eye or on the side of the face or neck.

In addition to the rash, about 20% to 25% of those who get shingles go on to develop severe nerve pain (postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN) that can last for several months or even years. In some rare cases, shingles can also cause strokes, encephalitis, spinal cord damage and vision loss.

Shingles Vaccine

The vaccine for shingles called Shingrix (see provides much better protection than the old shingles vaccine, Zostavax.

Manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, Shingrix is 97% effective in preventing shingles in people 50 to 69 years old, and 91% effective in those 70 and older.

Shingrix also does a terrific job of preventing nerve pain that continues after a shingles rash has cleared – about 90% effective.

Because of this protection, the CDC recommends that everyone age 50 and older, receive the Shingrix vaccine, which is given in two doses, separated by two to six months.

Even if you have already had shingles, these vaccinations are still essential given that reoccurring cases are a possibility. The CDC also recommends that anyone previously vaccinated with Zostavax be revaccinated with Shingrix.

It is important to note that Shingrix can cause some adverse side effects for some people, including muscle pain, fatigue, headache, fever and upset stomach.

Shingrix – which averages around $205 for both doses – is covered by most private health insurance plans including Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, but there may be a cost to you depending on your plan. Contact your insurer to find out.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published March 11, 2022
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