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Shingles and the Shingles Vaccine

If you had chickenpox as a kid, you may remember hearing that if “you catch it once and you won’t catch it again”. Well, that is partially true. Once you have had chicken pox, you might not catch the virus again, but that’s only because it never really went away.
The virus that causes chicken pox (varicella zoster virus) stays dormant within the nerve cells and can become active again later in life in the form of Shingles.
What is Shingles? How do you get it? How do you treat it? Can you prevent it? Not to worry, we will go over everything and more in this newsletter:
  • What is Shingles?
  • Symptoms of Shingles
  • How it’s Spread
  • The Risks of getting Shingles
  • Treatment and Prevention
  • What is the Shingles Vaccine?
  • Who Should get the Shingles Vaccine?
  • Where and how to get the Shingles Vaccine
  • The Cost of the Vaccine and Coverage

What is Shingles?

Shingles is a painful disease characterized by a painful rash with blisters. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus remains latent inside people’s nerve cells after contracting chickenpox and is sometimes reactivated later in life causing shingles.
Symptoms of Shingles
Some of the symptoms include tingling, itching of the skin that can turn into a rash with blisters. Usually all in one strip in the body, however it can appear anywhere in the body often being confused for a muscle condition at first. Early onset symptoms can also include headache, fever, chills and nausea. The rash itself can last for 2 to 4 weeks.
How it’s Spread
You cannot get Shingles unless you have had chicken pox. Shingles cannot be spread by coughing or sneezing. However, if you have never had chicken pox, or the chicken pox vaccine, you can get Shingles if you come into contact with opens blisters of the Shingles infection. Once the blisters crust over, the person can no longer spread the disease.
The Risks of Getting Shingles
Some people, approximately 1 in 5, will have pain even after the rash goes away. This pain is called “post-herpetic neuralgia” and can last months and in some cases, years. Another complication of Shingles is that it can affect the cornea, impairing vision.

Other issues that can arise, but are rarer, are an increase in the chance of a stroke, scarring,  pneumonia, loss of hearing or vision, swelling of the brain and superinfections of the rash caused by bacteria.

The Treatment and Prevention

Once you have developed Shingles, unfortunately there is no miracle cream that can make it go away. At best, if you have Shingles, your doctor may be able to prescribe you some anti-viral medication that can help lessen the symptoms if taken within the first 72 hours. Antihistamines can help lessen the itching as well as pain medication such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. If you do have shingles, make sure to cover up your blisters so as to not spread it to anyone else.

The best way to handle Shingles is prevention. To prevent your children from developing Shingles as adults, make sure they receive the Chickenpox Vaccine. As an adult who has not received the chickenpox vaccine as a child or has been previously infected with Chickenpox, the Shingles Vaccine would help prevent you from developing the disease.

The Shingles Vaccine

Currently, the only available vaccine in Canada for Shingles is the Shingrix® vaccine. The vaccine prevents more than 90% of Shingles cases in adults 50 years and older. In adults who are 18 and older with compromised immune systems, the vaccine is 70-90% effective in preventing the disease.

Some side affects have been known to occur with getting the vaccine but are usually mild. Some of those symptoms are soreness and swelling at the area of the vaccine was given; headache, fever, chills, muscle fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms if they occur usually go away in a few days. Serious side affects are very rare.

Who Should get the vaccine?

Roughly 1 out of 3 people will get Shingles in their lifetime and it is more common in people who are over the age of 50 and those who have a weakened immune system due to medication or disease. However, anyone who has had chickenpox can develop Shingles. The Public Health Agency of Canada and Immunize BC recommends the following people should get the vaccine:

 

  • If you are 50 years or older and you have had;
    • Chickenpox.
    • Shingles.
    • Previously received the live Shingles virus (they are no longer available in Canada).
    • Are unsure if you have had chickenpox in the past.
    • Are immunocompromised.
  • If you are 18 years or older and are immunocompromised.

Before getting the vaccine, you should discuss with your doctor or nurse practitioner whether it is right for you.

Where and how to get the Shingles Vaccine

Most pharmacies and travel clinics carry the vaccine and can be purchased directly without a prescription. At the pharmacy or clinic, the pharmacist, nurse, or physician will dispense the vaccine to you. The vaccine comes in two doses usually taken 2 to 6 months apart, and both doses must be taken for it to be effective.

The Cost of the Vaccine and Health Benefits Coverage
Unfortunately, the Shingles Vaccine Shingrix® is currently not publicly funded in BC, Alberta or the Northwest Territories. However, the Shingles vaccine is fully covered in the Yukon. In BC, Shingrix® is about $160 per dose and some private health benefit providers may cover the cost of the vaccine. For First Nations and Indigenous individuals in BC, the First Nations Health Authority does provide coverage for elders 60 years and older.
How to Find out if the Shingles Vaccine is Covered by Your Benefits Plan

To find out if your private health benefits cover the shingles vaccine you can speak with your pharmacist to find out.

As always, if you have any questions or need some assistance, we are here to help. Click the button below to get in touch.

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