Q. I had shingles many years ago. So did my friend. Her doctor gave her a shingles injection so she won't get it again. My doctor said by having shingles I built antibodies to it and don't need the shot. Which doctor is correct?

A. Chickenpox during childhood can lead to shingles later in life. The virus (varicella zoster) can lie dormant in nerves near the spinal cord for decades. The virus can be reactivated and trigger an intensely painful skin reaction.

Zostavax was developed to prevent shingles in people over 60. The company excluded anyone who had previously experienced a shingles attack from the study. Consequently, the FDA does not allow the company to promote the vaccine for anyone who already had shingles.

We’re not surprised that the doctors disagree. Many were taught that shingles only happen once. That is not completely true. Although quite rare, some people can experience another bout with this virus (American Family Physician, April 15, 2000). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for vaccination even for people who already had one attack.

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  1. SM

    I had the singles vaccine (shot) Tuesday morning Dec. 24, 2013. During the night of Dec. 29 (5 days later) I woke with itching on my torso and then went back to sleep. The next morning Dec. 30 I noticed a large area of blotchy raised rash across my right front torso and across and up my right back. I called my doctor and was given an appointment that afternoon. The Doctor said I definitely had shingles.
    He prescribed 7 days 3x daily of Valacyclovir 1GM tablets. He thinks since we got on top of it so early that it should last only about 2 weeks. The affected area looks like it’s trying to make blisters, but I’m hoping the Valacyclovir keeps this from happening.
    I had been thinking about getting the vaccine for many years, and now that I got it – it gave me singles!!!! I’m praying this isn’t the start of bigger problems singles can cause. I’m worried and concerned, but hoping for the best.

  2. el

    I didn’t know anything about shingles when the first signs appeared. I thought I had pulled a muscle in my back. so applied heat and ice for the pain. Then the rash appeared.
    Finally it was bad enough to go to the doctor. Too late for the meds to help.
    Long story, short… after over six years of trying every thing and spending lots of money nothing has helped the severe, constant, high level of pain, (post-herptic neuralgia (PHN).
    I share this to encourage everyone to not delay in getting medical help at the first signs of anything that has a chance of being shingles. Believe me, you do not want the long term PHN pain.

  3. LW

    I had the shingles virus shot about 3 months ago to prevent shingles. I am 64 yrs old. Since then, I have been diagnosed with hives 3 different times & have been put on prednisone each time. I have had hives before, but it has been years! Now I seem to get them regularly. The first time I thought it was shingles, because I had just had the shingles shot two weeks before. Then I came down with hives a month later & 2 months after that. All in different places, my back, my side & my face. I have had to miss 4 days of work because of this. If I had known the reaction would have been like this, I never would have gotten the shot. I sure hope it stops!

  4. LK

    I had the Shingle Shot 2110. For the pass five months I been having nerve pain on both hips where the shingle use to come. The pain is very severe. I thought when I took the shot; I wouldn’t have nothing.

  5. nathan

    Have had shingles for 7 months. The first 3 to 5 weeks there where many red spots some pin head size some much larger. I cannot get close to telling you the pain, you will scream with it, I’m 78 and the red spots are gone but the pain is still there, but now it is very tender to the touch. No sheets touching and the pain has become dull but many times a real jolt comes never know when……. my thoughts are with only 1 million cases reported each year there is not enough $$$$$$$$$$$ for the drug co. to take a stab at shingles, not like heart meds. and other meds that make gobs of $$$$$$ that they never cure but the $$$$$$$$$$ keeps rolling in, maybe with the baby boomers coming into being 60 more cases of shingles will be reported and the drug co. will see a $$$$$$$ sign for them.
    I do believe shingles can be cured if taken on in the early stages before it get a major hold that’s where the drug co. can perfect a drug to stop it cold, I can say I have tried everything and I do mean it everything, nothing works maybe time and more time I will not give up trying so if anyone has that special thing that cures shingles I’m all ears, I’m so very thankful to my wife she has been there every step she is a RN never left my side.

  6. Deanna C.

    My Mother had singles several years ago and it was bad. She still has some of the tingling and pain in her nerves on her back. I got it a couple of years ago on my hip. I went to the doctor and was given acyclovir and only had the pain for about a week. I did talk to my doctor about the shot and at that time Medicare did not cover it. I do not know if it does now. I have not had a recurrence. I am 72 years old now and hope I do not get it again.

  7. Jim K.

    I was looking for some sort of advice as to whether or not to get a shingles shot. I’ve never had shingles but I’m 65 and wish to avoid what seems to be an avoidable, painful disease.

  8. gerry b.

    I’m currently in 26th of 37 days of radiation for prostate cancer and on the 20th day I started getting pain up and down my right leg and a rash about the size of a half dollar on the right side of my ass. I mentioned this to my Oncologist and after examining me he said that it was shingles and wrote me a script for acyclovir and to take five pills a day for eight days. The pain went away immediately but after two days the rash remains but seems to be drying up. I had the shot 10 months ago.

  9. M A Reed

    I had the shingles vaccination about a year ago. Since that time, any break in my skin (small scratch, cut, minor burn) develops a rash with small blisters. Itches like crazy. Takes forever to clear. I suspect this is related to the vaccine. Has anyone else experienced this reaction? And… is there anything I can do to 1) eliminate this reaction, and 2) clear up the rash/blisters/itch?

  10. Barbara A.

    I had the beginning symptoms of shingles in 2002, but as a nurse, I recognized them immediately & called my m.d. She had me in the office within an hr., administered Aclovir & gave me a “dose pak” of Prednisone. Because the beginning rash was adjacent to my rt. eye, she sent me to my optometrist who examined me for optic nerve involvement. All clear. I continued to have tingling & itchiness, a rash the size of a quarter and a rather severe headache for about a week, but then all symptoms disappeared. I still have a crusty patch where the rash was.
    In 2008, my m.d. advised me to have the vaccine which I did. I’ve had no symptoms of a recurrence since.

  11. MHB

    I am into my fourth week of shingles. The pain has decreased (with Dr. prescribed anti-viral, prednisone and pain meds. The only suggested for topical relief has been calamine lotion, which has been very good, however, I have two places under one breast that don’t get enough air to heal over. Any suggestions? I had an 8-inch-wide area from the middle of my chest around to the middle of my back where the rash became blisters and are now crusted over and are beginning to slough-off. I truly wouldn’t wish Shingles on my worst enemy!

  12. Deanna C.

    I came down with the shingles after I had been working out. Thinking I had pulled a muscle I just dealt with the pain in the leg thinking it was the siatic nerve and doing exercises for 4 days and when I took a shower noticed a break out on my upper thigh. I went to the doctor the following morning already diagnosed myself with the Shingles on the Siatic Nerve.
    She said that was what I had she gave me Acylovir and pain pills. The rash was not bad and never did blister, but the nerve pain in my back and hip is still really bad and the numbness on the top of my thigh is irritating. How long will this last and does anyone have any ideas as to what I could do for the pain??? Thanks

  13. Sten J.

    I had Chicken Pox as a youngster, and then at age 56 I had mouth and throat cancer. I was treated with surgery and then radiation. Ever since the radiation I have had a tingling sensation on my neck and shoulder and head, which two years later turned into a severe case of shingles.
    After a medical run-around, I got valtrex and vikodin for the pain. The worst lasted a month, but in the following months I have maintained the tingling/itching in the area which was affected. It is getting worse (about nine months later) and I suspect I am going to have another case of shingles soon. My oncologist, when I asked him about the shot to prevent it, said the no one whose immune system has been compromised, as is the case with 1) cancer, and 2) radiation treatments, should have the vaccine. It will result in shingles. For what that is worth. I am going to try L-lysine.

  14. rdl

    I am suffering with my first case of shingles, and I HAD the shot last year! So don’t pin your hopes on the shot – you can still get shingles! I am told it “might” reduce the time/and-or symptoms, but I am experiencing ALL symptoms and pain, at this time.

  15. jng

    Hi, I am 29 years old, I got shingles two years ago on my stomach, side and back, I got them again last year on my face around my mouth, I have them again right now, I heard about the shot you can get even if you have already had them, but I was told I was to young for the shot, what I don’t get is I am old enough to get this painful disease, but I am not old enough to get vaccinated from it, any suggestions??

  16. N. Phillips

    After chemo treatment, I had two bouts with shingles. Knowing that this is a herpes virus, I treated myself with L-Lysine as I often did for cold sores. The first case was on my stomach and the second time on my face and in my mouth. In both instances, the discomfort and rash disappeared in less than a week. My oncologist was very interested to hear this and has been successful in treating many patients with
    L-Lysine since.

  17. Joyce

    I have recently had a horrible case of shingles. I went to the doctor immediately and started on medication. That was 5 weeks ago and I am still having pain. I also took herbal meds and used Listerine on the rash. I finally went to an acupuncturist which has definitely helped but the pain is not totally gone. I plan on getting the shingles vaccination ASAP so that hopefully I will not get shingles again. It has been a horribly painful and debilitating experience.

  18. Brenda A.

    I had shingles in 2002 and subsequently post-herpetic neuralgia. In September I experienced redness and pain in the same spot but no blisters. My doctor said at first that it was shingles and gave me the anti-viral medication which took the pain symptoms away in a little more than a day. I went back for follow-up (still had some redness and itching) and I was told it must’ve been the phn! I was also told that the vaccine would be of no benefit. I can’t help but wonder if the vaccine would do any good!

  19. naskuttke

    my first chicken pox was as a toddler; the last at age 18. Does this increase risk of shingles? current age 73.

  20. Ann D.

    My husband and I participated in the Shingles Study beginning several years ago, through Duke Univ. in Durham, NC. When the study had reached a conclusion we learned that I had received the actual vaccine and he had received the placebo. At this point they gave him the actual vaccine. I am still reporting to the Shingles Study monthly about whether I have had any shingles symptoms (I have not had any such symptoms.)

  21. ij

    I had shingles for the first time about four years ago, then again two years ago in the same place. The second time wasn’t quite as bad.
    Each time I was in highly stressed situations.

  22. Gerry M. (age 77)

    I had shingles in 1999 and promptly went to the doctor. I was given a prescription (not a vaccine) and my symptoms disappeared pronto. Two doctors have now verified for me that getting treatment within 72 hours is critical for immediate relief. Why is this information not made available? I read about the promotion of the shingles vaccine often, but I have never seen the information included about getting to the doctor within 72 hours for immediate relief. It could be that the focus on getting the vaccine is more important, but I’ve also read that the vaccine is considered only about 50% effective for seniors.

  23. AJF

    I had a very light case in the 80s and a 2nd case 10 yrs later. I was told you can get them every 10 yrs. The doctor didn’t recommend the vaccination, I suspect because of my age, but you can be sure at the first sign…I’m going to the nearest doctor for the vaccine. Even one day was misery.

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