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Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. The varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox and shingles, can occur anywhere on your body. The illness often appears as a single band of blisters that wrap around the left or right side of your torso. A weakened immune system can activate the virus. If you have had the chickenpox, you will be more likely to get shingles if:
- You have cancer, HIV, or any other disease that lowers your body’s defense mechanisms
- Are 50 or older
- Are under stress
- Take steroids or other medications that weaken your immune system
The signs and symptoms of shingles typically affect a small section on one side of your body. The signs and symptoms include:
- Sensitivity to touch
- Pain, burning, numbness or tingling
- Fluid-filled blisters
- A red rash
- A headache
If you have shingles or possibly suspect that you might have the virus, you should contact your healthcare provider to discuss possible treatment options. Antiviral medications that are available to treat shingles include acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir. These medications shorten the length and severity of the illness. If you have shingles, it is best to begin treatment with one of these medications urgently after the rash appears for maximum effectiveness. Over-the-counter pain medications may help to relieve the pain associated with shingles. To alleviate the itching caused by shingles try wet compresses, calamine lotion, and oatmeal baths.
Zostavax is a shingles vaccine. The FDA licensed it in 2006, and it reduces the risk of developing shingles up to 51%. It is a single dose shot that is given in a doctor’s office or at a pharmacy. Recommendations suggest that people 60 years of age or older get the vaccine whether or not they can recall having had chickenpox which is caused by the same virus. Studies indicate that 99% of Americans aged 40 and older have contracted chickenpox even if they cannot recall having the disease. The shingles vaccine does not have a maximum age limit for receiving it.
A new shingles vaccine, Shingrix, received a license from the FDA in 2017. The CDC recommends that healthy adults 50 years and older get two doses of the drug two to six months apart. This drug provides substantial protection against shingles and is the preferred vaccine for the disease.
If you have shingles, you can still receive a shingles vaccine as it helps to prevent future occurrences of the disease. There is not a specified duration of time you must wait after having shingles before receiving a shingles vaccine, but you should hold off until the rash has entirely disappeared. It is wise to consult with your healthcare provider when making this decision.
A vaccination for shingles costs between $200 to $250 and covers the injection as well as the injection administration fee. Medicare part A and B do not cover the vaccination. However, Medicare prescription drug plans (part D) include all commercially available vaccines like the vaccine for shingles.
Many private insurance companies will provide coverage for the Zostavax vaccine, but consumers should confirm their coverage before requesting the vaccine. Health insurance companies gradually add new vaccines to their formularies after the drugs appear on the recommended vaccine list. Since it is a relatively new vaccine, consumers might have to wait before their coverage includes the Shingrix vaccine.
Unfortunately, there is currently no visitors insurance, travel insurance, or short-term insurance on the market that will pay the cost of vaccinations, shingles included. Still, it is prudent to have visitors and travel insurance to cover unexpected medical emergencies that may arise during your travel stay. Atlas America and Visitors Care Insurance are two highly regarded companies that can provide you with such coverage. It is recommended that travellers get vaccinated in their home country before travelling abroad.
What You Can Do About Shingles
Shingles, an infection triggered by the varicella-zoster virus, is also responsible for chickenpox. Even if a chickenpox infection is over, the virus may live for years and reactivate as shingles. If you are over 50 years of age, getting vaccinated spares you the pain and itching caused by shingles. Zostavax and Shingrix have FDA approval and are designed to prevent shingles. If you have Medicare part D, get your vaccine today. Consult with your private insurance company to see if one or both of the vaccines are available for you. If you currently have shingles, visit your healthcare provider for an approved medication designed to shorten the length and severity of the disease.