Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: Should I get the shingles vaccine?

Q. I'm 79 and had chickenpox as a child. Should I get the shingles vaccine? What are the risks?

A. The U.S. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends the shingles vaccine for most people ages 60 and over, regardless of whether they recall having had the chickenpox or not. (Studies show that 99% of people over age 40 have had chickenpox.) Shingles, also called herpes zoster, or zoster, is a painful blistering rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox — the varicella zoster virus (VZV). After you recover from chickenpox, VZV retreats to nerve cells near the spine, where it lies dormant until it comes to life again as shingles. About one in three people will develop shingles during her or his lifetime. It occurs most often in older adults and in people whose immune systems have been weakened by chronic infections, cancer, or immune-suppressing drugs, such as steroids or chemotherapy.

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