Born before 1995? You may have had chickenpox as a child. If so, you’re at risk for getting a painful shingles infection.
The varicella vaccine is a live virus administered to protect against chickenpox caused by the varicella zoster virus. Introduced in the United States in 1995, it slowly became a routine vaccination in pediatric offices over the next several years. While no vaccine guarantees you will not get the disease, says Jarrod Watson, a family nurse practitioner at Providence Medical Group – Medford Family Practice, it significantly lowers the likelihood of getting it, as well as the duration and severity of the disease if you did get it.
If you get the chickenpox vaccine and never get chickenpox, you will never get shingles, Watson explains. “You have to have a true case of chickenpox first,” he says. “If you get the vaccine and end up getting chickenpox anyway, you would then be at risk for shingles later.”
The live virus given through the vaccination does not reside dormant in the patient’s nerves because it typically does not convert to a full-blown case of chickenpox. The vaccine creates antibodies in the body that are always on the alert, constantly looking for chickenpox in the system, Watson notes. These antibodies attack the virus when the person is exposed, thus preventing him or her from getting a true case of chickenpox.
The shingles vaccine contains a weakened chickenpox virus – varicella zoster – that helps your body build immunity to the virus. Watson and the medical community in general recommend that people 60 and older who had chickenpox get the shingles vaccine. Unlike a flu shot that’s recommended yearly, the shingles vaccine is considered to be a one-time-only vaccine.