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Shingles Risks, Symptoms and How to Keep Yourself Protected

shingles vaccineThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a recommendation for you—if you’re over age 60, get vaccinated against shingles. The organization came out in support of the vaccination in 2008, and today Walgreens pharmacist Jennifer McPhee continues to help people access it.

“The shingles vaccine doesn’t prevent the virus entirely, but it decreases your chances significantly,” she says.

The same virus that causes varicella zoster (more commonly known as chickenpox) also cases shingles. Following chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the body. Once reactivated, it causes a blistering and painful rash that often appears as stripes on one side of the body, traveling the pathway of nerves.

More than one million people develop shingles every year. Those at greatest risk of contracting shingles are people who are over 50, who have had chickenpox or who have a weakened immune system (i.e. due to cancer, steroid use, chemotherapy or HIV).

Symptoms of shingles include:

  • Itchiness
  • Pain or burning
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Upset stomach
  • Rash

The rash typically scabs in seven to 10 days, and clears up completely within four weeks. Though the symptoms may seem tolerable, complications—including persistent nerve pain, blindness (if the virus attaches to the optic nerve), nerve damage and death—can occur. “These are rare, but very serious if you get them,” McPhee says.

If you do contract shingles, keep the rash covered, avoid touching it and wash your hands. This will help prevent spreading it to others.

However, McPhee maintains the best way to prevent shingles is to get vaccinated. The only potential side effects include redness, soreness, swelling and itching at the injection site. “None of those are a reason not to get it,” McPhee says.

Only people who have weakened immune systems or who are allergic to neomycin or gelatin should not get the vaccine. “Wheezing, swelling, hives and rash are life-threatening allergic reactions, so you don’t want to risk it.”

For those people or for people who choose not to get vaccinated for personal reasons, avoid contracting shingles by eating healthy, regular meals. People should also relieve stress through meditation, walks or yoga.

“Try to stay as healthy as possible,” McPhee says. “This virus wakes up and rears its nasty head when your immune system is down.”

Most Medicare D plans cover the shingles vaccination. For more information, contact the Walgreens Pharmacy adjacent to Weiss at 4720 N. Marine Dr. at (773) 769-1315.

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