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Shingles vaccine helps stave off painful virus

JUST A PINCH — The shingles vaccine is administered under the skin, via a shot.
HAMBURG — Approximately 1 million people will develop herpes zoster this year and one in three Americans will develop the painful rash most commonly referred to as shingles.

According to Wanakah Pharmacy Pharmacist Jeffrey Rutowski, shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same strain that causes chicken pox.

“Anyone who has had chicken pox has this virus, dormant in the cells of their body,” Rutowski said. “When someone is in an immune-compromised state, the symptoms come out.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals’ suffering from shingles experience severe pain, fever, headache, chills and an upset stomach, for between two and four weeks. “Very rarely, a shingles infection can lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation or death,” the CDC added.

Rutowski said that the shingles rash is also accompanied by nerve pain, also referred to as post-herpetic neuralgia, which can linger for weeks, months or even a year.

A vaccine for shingles was licensed in 2006, according to the CDC. The vaccine contains a weakened, but still live, form of the shingles virus.

“The idea is to stimulate the immune system to protect people who are at risk,” Rutowski said. “The vaccine is a preventative measure. It doesn’t treat the rash or pain.”

Even individuals who have already had shingles are encouraged by the CDC to get the vaccine.

While the United States Food and Drug Administration has approved the vaccine for individuals 50 and older, the CDC recommends that people aged 60 and older get the vaccine.

“Initially, the CDC based its recommendation on the availability of the vaccine,” Rutowski said, “and it is targeting those most at risk.”

The pharmacist said that, at present, the vaccine is being recommended as a single, one-time dose. “The CDC is monitoring to see if boosters will be needed in the future,” he added.

The shot is administered, subcutaneously, into the deltoid. Rutowski reported that possible side effects include pain, swelling and redness at the injection site, as well as headaches.

Those interested in receiving the vaccine must obtain a prescription from a doctor or practitioner. Rutowski recommended that those individuals then make an appointment with a pharmacist, bring in the prescription and present an insurance card.

According to Rutowski, individuals with allergies to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin cannot receive the shingles vaccine. In addition, those who are immune compromised with certain diseases, those with high doses of steroids in their systems, people with certain types of cancer and pregnant women cannot receive the vaccine.

“While it isn’t a life-threatening condition, shingles can be very painful,” said the Mayo Clinic. “Vaccines can help reduce the risk of shingles, while early treatment can help shorten a shingles infection and lessen the chance of complications.”

“This virus is opportunistic,” Rutowski said. “There is always the potential for it to erupt in someone who has had chicken pox.”

The CDC said that the vaccine reduces a person’s risk of shingles by 50 percent. “It can also reduce pain in people who still get shingles after being vaccinated.”

This vaccine is currently being offered at Wanakah Pharmacy, which is located at 4923 Lake Shore Road in Hamburg. The pharmacy is open from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Monday – Friday and from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call the business at 627-3232.

The vaccine is also offered at local Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid locations. It will be provided, within the next few weeks, by Brooks Medical and Pharmacy, located at 4481 Lakeshore Road in Hamburg. For more information, call 627-3060.

The Hamburg Wal-Mart, located on Southwestern Boulevard, is not currently offering the shingles vaccine, but reported that a clinic may be hosted soon, to provide the vaccine to its customers.

Visit the CDC at or the Mayo Clinic at

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