Shingles & Shingrix: What is it, and how does it work?
What Is Shingles?
Shingles occur when the chickenpox virus that you had when you were a child becomes active again. However, instead of causing chickenpox, the virus now resides in the nervous system. As such, the occurrence of shingles is usually confined to an area of the body which corresponds to how the nerves are connected to an area of the skin.
The condition can cause suffering due to the complication of developing post-herpetic neuralgia or it can simply be a nerve pain around an area of the body where the virus has become active.
Nerve pain is very different from physical pain in terms of the difficulty associated with managing it. Post-herpetic pain can last up to 6 months or in some cases. Patients who develop this are often unable to sleep well, or feel like their skin is on fire.
The risk of such a condition increases with age. Approximately 80% of cases occur in patients who are 50 years or older.
Who is at risk of developing shingles?
People who are more than 50 years old, females, or immunocompromised individuals (patients who have certain cancers, HIV, or are on long term immunosuppressive medication)
What can I do to prevent shingles from developing?
If you have been infected with chickenpox in the past and belong to one of the aforementioned risk groups, you can reduce your risk of developing the disease by getting a vaccine called Shingrix.
After completing 2 doses of Shingrix, the risk of developing shingles decreases significantly by almost 90%.
The 2nd dose is usually administered 2 to 4 months after the first dose.
What are the common side effects?
The common side effects are pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site, myalgia (muscle pain), fatigue, headache, shivering, fever, and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Who is eligible for the Shingrix vaccine?
As Shingrix is not a live attenuated vaccine, most individuals are able to receive it unless they are allergic to the components of the vaccine.
It is recommended that individuals above 50 years old or 18 years and older who have a condition or undergoing treatment that affects their immune system take the vaccine.
What is the difference between Zostavax and Shingrix?
The difference lies in the efficacy of the vaccine. While Shingrix is found to reduce the risk of developing shingles by up to 90%, Zostavax is found to have an efficacy rate of only up to 60%. There are no differences in side effects for both vaccines however.
If I had Zostavax as my first dose, can I get Shingrix as my second dose?
Yes. It is recommended that patients who have taken Zostavax for their first dose and want to get Shingrix for their second dose wait at least 6 months from the date of the first dose.