Harvard Men's Health Watch

On call: More on the shingles vaccine

On call

More on the shingles vaccine

Q. Your article on new immunizations for adults was very helpful. I already got my booster for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough, but even though I'm 61, my doctor didn't want to give me the shingles vaccine because I've already had shingles. Should I get the vaccine?

A. It's a good question, but there is not enough information to answer it fully, since the new vaccine against herpes zoster, or shingles, has not yet been tested in people who have already had shingles.

Shingles and chickenpox are both caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). After childhood chickenpox, the virus remains in the nervous system. At first it's held in check by the body's immune system, but over the years, immunity wanes. When VZV immunity is at low levels — or when a stress activates VZV — the virus can come to life and migrate along the nerve fibers to the skin, where it causes the blister-like rash of shingles. Because the virus travels down sensory nerves, pain is a common symptom — and even after the rash resolves, pain can persist (post-herpetic neuralgia).

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