The shingles vaccine called zostavax is only given once. It is now recommended that all adults over 50 years of age be vaccinated.
Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the herpes varicella-zostervirus, or simply the zoster virus.
Most people get chickenpox when they are children. However, after the chickenpox has gone, the virus stays in our nervous system in a dormant (inactive) state. The virus does not become active because our immune system keeps it in check.
Later in life the zoster virus can become reactivated. If this occurs it causes shingles. Shingles is an infection of a nerve and the area of skin around it.
A bout of shingles will normally last from 2 to 4 weeks. The patient will generally feel a tingling sensation in the affected area at first. This will be followed by pain, and then a rash.
Although the chest and abdomen are the most likely parts of the body to experience pain and a rash, shingles can affect any part, including arms, legs, and even the face and eyes.
Pain: the pain in the affected area tends to be continuous. Some describe it as a dull pain, while others experience a burning sensation. There may also be occasional stabbing pains. The affected area will nearly always be tender.
Rash: about two to three days after the onset of pain the rash will appear. It usually emerges on just one side of the body, and develops at the area of the affected nerve. It starts off as red blotches on the skin, and rapidly develops into itchy blisters; similar to those of chicken pox. Each blister may be there for about one week, then they become yellowish and dry out. Some patients may experience slight scarring of the skin.
Postherpetic neuralgia: some patients experience severe nerve pain (neuralgia). If the nerves are damaged, post herpetic neuralgia, the pain can last for a very long time, even months or years after symptoms have disappeared.
Occasionally, severe cases may involve the eyes and affect vision. Age and problems with your immune system may increase your risk of getting shingles. The current recommendation is that everyone ages 60 and older receives a one-time dose of Zostavax®. While the FDA has recently approved the use of Zostavax® for anyone 50 years or older, all patients under the age of 60 must have a prescription.