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Shingles and Shingrix – What is it, and how can we prevent it? By Our Student Pharmacist, Madeline VanLoon.

What is “shingles”?

Shingles (herpes zoster) usually refers to an infection caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). It is the same virus responsible for chickenpox (varicella). Shingles typically manifests as a painful rash that forms where nerves from the spinal cord connect with the skin. This area is called a dermatome. The rash appears along a dermatome located on one side of the body. It is red, blistering, and can last up to thirty days. The pain associated with the rash is commonly described as “a deep burning,” “throbbing,” or “stabbing” sensation. Dermatomes are considered contagious until they dry and crust over (about 7 to 10 days after first symptoms appear). Scarring and changes in skin color at the lesion sites may occur.

Shingles - Mayo Clinic

The most common complication of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a condition characterized by persistent numbness, itching, and pain. This condition affects 10-15% of shingles patients and is defined by significant pain lasting for 90 days after onset of rash.

Are you at risk?

immune response after shingrix - Shingrix website

If you have had chickenpox, the virus that causes shingles is inside your body and can reactivate.

  • 99% of people over the age of 50 are living with the virus that causes shingles.

  • There are 1.2 million cases annually in the United States.

  • The risk is greatest in those whose immune system is weaker.

  • 1 in 3 people will get shingles in their lifetime, and your chances increase as you age.

  • 1 in 4 people will have a complication related to shingles. This could mean long term nerve pain, lasting months or even years after the rash has healed.

How do we treat shingles?

Shingles is treated with antiviral medications to enhance healing of skin lesions and decrease the severity of nerve pain. It is recommended to administer antiviral medications within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms for the most benefit. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen and NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen) are used to manage mild to moderate pain. Other medications may be considered for treating associated skin infections and nerve pain in extreme cases.


Web MD Images

How can we prevent shingles?

Fortunately, a vaccine exists to prevent shingles. The vaccine, Shingrix, is a two-dose vaccine series recommended for those over the age of 50, even if they have previously been vaccinated with Zostavax. Shingrix is 90% effective at preventing shingles  – far superior to Zostavax, which has shown to be only 51% effective.

What should I know about the vaccine, Shingrix?

  • Shingrix is NOT a live vaccine. It is a recombinant vaccine with an adjuvant. It works to boost your body’s protection against shingles.

  • Complete vaccination with Shingrix requires two doses.The second dose should be received 2 to 6 months after the first dose. This is important to prevent shingles.

  • It is administered into the muscle of the upper arm.

  • Common side effects include pain, redness, swelling at the injection site, muscle pain, tiredness, headache, and flu-like symptoms. These effects should be temporary, and certainly far less severe than shingles itself.

What if I am immunocompromised ?

Being immunocompromised refers to having an immune system that is not working as well as it should as a result of advanced age, taking certain medications like steroids or chemotherapy, or other conditions such as HIV/AIDS. Low levels of immune system suppression are generally acceptable, but not all conditions have been evaluated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yet. Talk to your pharmacist to see if Shingrix is appropriate for you.


Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis of herpes zoster. UpToDate. Wolters Kluwer. Available at https://www.uptodate.com. Accessed June 4, 2020.

Answer questions about the new shingles vaccine Shingrix. Pharmacist’s Letter: 2018.https://pharmacist.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed June 4, 2020.

Shingles Vaccine: FAQs. Pharmacist’s Letter. 2018. https://pharmacist.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed June 4, 2020.

Shingrix (Zoster Vaccine Recombinant, Adjuvanted). GSK. https://www.shingrix.com/index.html. Published 2018. Accessed June 4, 2020.

Vaccination for the prevention of shingles (herpes zoster). UpToDate. Wolters Kluwer. Available athttps://www.uptodate.com. Accessed June 4, 2020.

What everyone should know about Zostavax. CDC. 2018.https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/zostavax/. Accessed June 4, 2020.



  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shingles/symptoms-causes/syc-20353054#dialogId45719376

  2. https://www.shingrix.com/discover-shingrix.html

  3. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/shingles/ss/slideshow-shingles-pictures

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