skip navigation , health centers and clinics , search , accessibility statement , Página en español ,
Contra Costa Health Services
contact us

Topics > Healthy Outlook > Shingles Vaccine Good for Adults 60 and Older

Shingles Vaccine Good for Adults 60 and Older

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Fri., Sept. 21, 2007
By Erika Jenssen, MPH

The Health Department has been getting many calls from people eager to receive a new adult vaccine that helps prevent shingles.

Shingles is a blistery skin rash that can be particularly painful in older adults. Anyone who has ever had chickenpox, even as a child, is at risk. As part of National Adult Immunization Awareness Week from Sept. 23 to Sept. 29, we're encouraging adults 60 and older to get the new shingles vaccine.

What is shingles?

Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). Although a herpes virus, VZV is not the same virus that causes sexually transmitted genital herpes.

VZV causes chickenpox, usually in children, and then often stays dormant in the person's spinal cord even after the person recovers from chickenpox. Years later, VZV can flare up as shingles.

It passes from the spinal cord down a nerve to one side of the face or body, leading to often itchy then painful blisters that scab over in a few days.

Often the pain, itching or tingling precedes the rash. Other symptoms can include fever, headache and chills.

Shingles usually clears up in two to four weeks without any lasting problems. However, one in five people suffer lasting severe nerve pain, called post-herpetic neuralgia.

This chronic pain can persist for months or longer and can be recurring. Shingles also can affect the nerves around the eye and occasionally leads to impaired vision.

Who's at risk?

Shingles can affect anyone, but mostly those over 50. A weakened immune system, such as with aging, cancer, AIDS, HIV, and immunosuppressive drugs, can also lead to shingles. There are about one million cases of shingles annually in the United States.

Is shingles contagious?

Shingles can't be spread to other people as shingles, but the shingles in one person can cause chickenpox in another if the second person hasn't had it or has not been vaccinated against it. Therefore, keep the shingles rash covered and wash hands regularly.

How is shingles treated?

There are several prescription medicines, such as acyclovir, valacyclovir and famiciclovir, that can help reduce the duration of the illness and the amount of pain.

There is some evidence that when combined with prednisone within a few days of shingles' onset, these medicines can reduce the incidence of long-term pain (post-herpetic neuralgia) that shingles can cause. The new vaccine can help prevent shingles outbreaks all together.

Who should get vaccinated?

The vaccine is approved for people 60 and older. Even people who have had shingles should still get vaccinated, since a past episode won't protect them from getting it again.

Those with active untreated tuberculosis, who are undergoing immunosuppressive therapies, including high-dose corticosteroids, or who have immunodeficiency conditions should not receive the vaccine.

How much does the shingles vaccine cost and where can people get vaccinated?

Anyone interested in the shingles vaccine should ask their health care provider about availability. Medicare Part D covers at least part of the vaccine's cost.

The shingles vaccine is available for $175 along with other adult vaccinations at the public health immunization clinics in Brentwood, Concord, Pittsburg and Richmond.

For detailed information on the immunization clinics, visit the Health Department Web site at or call 800-246-2494.

Jenssen is the immunization coordinator for Contra Costa Public Health.

Contra Costa County home page