Editor’s note: This story was updated Nov. 9, 2015, to include potential side effects of vaccines.
Bill Parescki had no idea what was causing the sharp pain and rash on his side.
“It was hard to describe, like it was burning constantly,” said Parescki, 86, an industrial plant manager in Illinois before retiring to Wisconsin’s Northwoods. “When I put a shirt on, just lightly touching the rash felt terrible. It was really something.”
Parescki suffered through his case of shingles in 2007. He developed postherpetic neuralgia, a complication of shingles. This affects nerve fibers and skin, causing burning pain that lasts long after the rash and blisters of shingles disappear. He had to wait out the pain for a couple of months.
A shingles vaccine for prevention
“Anyone who had chickenpox may develop shingles,” said Dr. Barbara Mroz, a Marshfield Clinic internal medicine specialist. “After the chickenpox is over, the virus stays in your system but is dormant.”
Some people believe that if they never had chicken pox they do not need the shingles vaccine. Mroz said this is not true because many people had “silent” or undiagnosed chickenpox and are still at risk.
Parescki may be a good example of that. He grew up in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1961. He doesn’t remember ever having chickenpox.
Shingles hits 1 of 3 over age 50
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of three people over 50 will develop the painful condition. Age 50 is significant because the body’s immune systems start to weaken at that time. Shingles, however, can happen at any age.
“Anytime your body is stressed for other reasons, you are at higher risk,” Mroz said.
“It’s worth it”
Parescki recalls the horrible pain he experienced and is glad to offer his opinion.
“I would definitely recommend the vaccine,” he said. “It’s worth it, because if you get shingles but don’t get treatment on time, it’s too late, and that will be painful.”
The FDA has approved the vaccine for adults 50 and older, but the CDC’s official recommendation is for adults 60 and older to receive the vaccine. Adults age 50-59 should discuss the risks and benefits with their providers, because the CDC has no recommendation, for or against, routine use of the vaccine for people age 50-59.
Like all medicines, a vaccine could possibly cause serious problems such as severe allergic reactions. But, the risk of a vaccine causing serious harm is extremely small, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC, which monitors vaccine safety, has reported no serious problems with the shingles vaccine.
Mild problems that may occur from a shingles vaccine include:
- Redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the site of the injection. One in three vaccine recipients experience this.
- One person in 70 experiences this side effect.
To get the facts about all immunizations, visit Marshfield Clinic’s vaccine information hub.