Shingles and the New Vaccine
By Dr. Ralph Strother | Medical Doctor | INcare | HEALTH
It often starts as an unusual pain, maybe some tingling… and then a rash sets in. Shingles! While it may be common (almost one in three Canadians may be affected by shingles), it can be quite painful. And, too often, some fail to realize that the pain from shingles can last for months – long after the rash has healed.
As a physician, I have been watching Shingrix – the newest vaccine against shingles – through the late Phase III trials and approval. Interestingly, Canada was the first country to approve the new vaccine, and our physician team here at INLIV had it on order as soon as the announcement of its approval for use in Canada in October 2017.
What are the chances I’ll get shingles?
Research from GSK notes that more than 90% of adults over 50 are infected with the virus, and almost one in three Canadians will be affected by shingles. If you’ve had chickenpox, you may get shingles.
What do shingles have to do with chickenpox?
Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox – and it never really leaves your system. Though you’ve recovered from the chickenpox, the virus is still lurking in your nerves. Later in life, it may strike again – this time it appears as shingles instead of chickenpox.
Why is shingles more common for those 50+?
It’s definitely more common for those 50+ but it’s important to know that anyone can be impacted with shingles. It tends to strike when your immune system is lowered, which naturally happens as we age, and also when our immune system is comprised by an illness, or even intense stress. Both the occurrence of shingles and the severity tend to increase with age.
How do I know if I have shingles?
Shingles usually presents itself as unexplained pain, tingling, then a rash and blisters. It can appear anywhere on your body, though most people have it appear on their sides. Sometimes it will appear on the face and around the eyes, which can be quite serious, causing scarring or even blindness.
What do I do if I think I have shingles?
- Resist the urge to scratch! I know that can be difficult but scratching may open up the sores and make you prone to a secondary infection
- Get a proper diagnosis from your doctor or healthcare professional as soon as you suspect you may have them
- INLIV medical clients should book an appointment immediately. Call 403.538.8881
- Wello, our virtual care service, can also diagnose shingles via secure video and assist with care and prescriptions, if necessary
- There are medications that may be prescribed to help reduce the severity and the duration, and the sooner we can get you on those medications, the better
- Some people may also need help managing the pain and discomfort
Are shingles contagious?
- Shingles sores contain the virus
- You cannot get shingles by merely being in the same room as someone infected
- It is contagious if you’ve had chickenpox and then come into direct contact with the open sores of the rash of someone with shingles
- If you have not had chickenpox and have direct contact with the open sores of shingles, you may get chickenpox. Keep in mind, chickenpox for an adult is quite serious.
How long does the pain from shingles last?
The rash may heal within a few days to a few weeks. But some people (about 30%) continue to experience pain for three months or more. Sometimes, the pain will be intense enough to impact your daily life and activities. That’s why it’s so important to get vaccinated to prevent it – and to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you’re experiencing it. People think because it’s common, it’s not serious, but it can be very serious.
Who should get the Shingrix vaccine?
It’s recommended that adults, starting at age 50, get the Shingrix vaccine – and it’s designed as a two-dose vaccine. You should have the second dose two to six months after the first. Anyone who has previously been vaccinated with Zostavax should still be vaccinated with Shingrix.
Is that because Shingrix is more effective than Zostavax?
Yes, studies show Shingrix is more effective – and that holds true as you age, too. And the risk of getting shingles increases with age, making it increasingly important for those 50+ to get the new vaccine.
In studies reported by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), below are the results for adults of varying ages receiving two doses of Shingrix.
Age 50 – 69
97% effective in preventing shingles
91% effective in preventing postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), the intense pain associated with shingles
91% effective in preventing shingles
89% effective in preventing postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), the intense pain associated with shingles
What makes Shingrix so much more effective against shingles?
According to the press release from GSK, “SHINGRIX is the first shingles vaccine to combine a non-live antigen, to trigger a targeted immune response, with a specifically designed adjuvant to enhance this response and help address the natural age-related decline of the immune system.”
In simpler terms, Shingrix stimulates your body to naturally produce an antibody. Your immune system is triggered to really do battle against the shingles virus that lays dormant in your system – and your body will continue to fight it, even as you age.
Are there any side effects from the Shingrix vaccine?
Yes, there is a risk for side effects like aches, headaches and fatigue, however those typically resolve within a few days.
Is it time for you to get the shingles vaccine?
- Speak with your physician or health care provider
- INLIV medical clients, please call us at 403.538.8881 to schedule an appointment or click here to email us
For more information on shingles and Shingrix:
- What Everyone Should Know About Shingles Vaccine (Shingrix) – CDC
- Shingrix Fact Sheet Canada – GSK
- What You Need To Know About The New Shingles Vaccine – Washington Post
- There’s A New Shingles Vaccine – Should You Get It – Chatelaine
- ‘This is a game-changer’: New shingles vaccine dramatically improves protection – Globe and Mail
 2 Brisson M et al. Epidemiology of varicella zoster virus infection in Canada and the United Kingdom. Epidemiol Infect 2011;127:305-14
Dr. Ralph Strother graduated in Human Biology from the University of Texas in Austin before returning home to attend the University of Alberta, where he graduated at the top of his class with his M.D. (distinction), receiving the Conn Memorial Gold Medal. Ralph then completed a Sport Medicine Fellowship at the University of Arizona. He is a charter recipient of the Diploma in Sport Medicine and the certificate of added competency in Sport and Exercise Medicine. He has been the team doctor for several national and Olympic teams and is passionate about full-spectrum family medicine and well-being.