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Shingles, Flu and You: What to Know About Adult Vaccines

There’s a new shingles vaccine and adults should be vaccinated with it starting at age 50, according to an advisory committee to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When the first new shingles vaccine in 10 years was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this fall, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended it be used instead of the existing one because it’s more effective, according to research [1] published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

And – for the first time – the recommendation includes adults ages 50 through 59 among those who should be vaccinated against the virus.

“This new vaccine will help in primary care a lot,” said Nathalie Regalado, M.D., [2] an internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care [3] in Pinecrest, Fla. “It’s become more common in recent years for us to see a disproportionate number of younger patients with shingles, many in their 40s.”

The new vaccine is also good news for older adults, who have the highest risk of getting shingles and the accompanying painful blisters and nerve pain. In people older than age 70, the new vaccine is 91 percent effective in preventing the virus, according to research [1].

The varicella-zoster virus, commonly known as shingles, affects about 1 million people in the U.S. each year. It causes a painful rash on a person’s face or body which can be accompanied by nerve pain.

In severe cases, shingles can lead to strokes, spinal cord injuries, loss of vision and encephalitis. The shingles virus is active in anyone who has had chickenpox. Once an episode of chickenpox ends, the varicella-zoster virus remains in nerve tissue inactively and can resurface years later as shingles.

“As the rash resolves, the pain usually starts to go away. But acute episodes of shingles can cause nerve damage that results in long-term chronic pain,” Dr. Regalado said. “If you have symptoms of shingles, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible. There are antiviral treatments available that can help with recovery and help avoid long-term pain.”

Other Important Adult Vaccines

In addition to the shingles vaccine, there are several other vaccines that primary care physicians make a point to discuss with their patients, says Dr. Regalado. They include:

“The flu is a significant disease with severe symptoms, causing severe complications in some patients, and you can even die from it,” Dr. Regaldo emphasizes. “It’s extremely important to be vaccinated against the flu. And contrary to what some people believe, the flu shot does not make you sick.”

“The Tdap vaccine is one of the immunizations that’s important for protecting against infection,” Dr. Regalado said. “Whooping cough in particular is a respiratory illness that many adults used to be immune from but that immunity wanes as someone gets older.”

Adults ages 65 and older need two pneumococcal vaccines, Dr. Regalado says, and it’s also important for this age group to discuss this with immunization with their doctor.

“This group of patients fall in between pediatric and adult immunization schedules and can sometimes miss out on getting vaccines that can help prevent them from getting serious ill,” she said. “It’s important for kids who are going off to college to discuss with their doctors the immunizations they should be getting.”

“If someone is younger than 26 years old, there’s still time for them to get it,” she said. “Studies show the HPV vaccination can decrease the risk of cervical cancer.”

For more information about recommended immunizations for adults, click here [8]to see a larger version of the chart below.