Harvard Men's Health Watch

Shingles vaccination

Q. I know lots of people who have had shingles, and I hear there is a vaccination to prevent this condition. Does it work? Is it safe?

A. Shingles is a localized recurrence of the chickenpox virus. It causes a painful rash that usually lasts seven to 10 days, and affects about 20% of people during their lifetimes. In 10% to 15% of people who develop shingles (about 2% to 3% of the general population), the pain lingers for two to three months. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). Even less common (1% to 2% of people with shingles) are complications in the eye, ear, or nervous system. There is now a vaccine, called Zostavax, to prevent shingles. Zostavax is safe for healthy people, but not for anyone on chemotherapy or who has a weakened immune system.

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