Adults Vaccinations – Protecting Yourself Later in Life

imageA few months ago, as I was chatting with my mom, she casually mentioned that a family member had come down with shingles. I was concerned about him, but went about my day. All of a sudden (hours later), my concern turned to distress – this family member had held my daughter for about 30 minutes the previous weekend. Did this expose my daughter to shingles? And what were the risks? I knew very little about shingles at the time – only that it develops from the chickenpox virus – a virus that my daughter had not yet been vaccinated against.

Although she wasn’t a newborn anymore, my daughter’s little system still seemed so fragile and vulnerable to me. I thought back to our months in the hospital and got a pit in my stomach. I hated to be an alarmist, but I was worried. I immediately went to Google and researched whether or not shingles could spread from an adult to a child. (Sidenote: terrible idea. A lot of non-science-based sites pop up on Google’s search results list.) My next move was to put down the laptop and pick up the phone. I calmly called our pediatrician who reassured me everything was probably fine.

After getting some answers, I figured other parents might be interested in the information I found. So here it is:

How does a person develop shingles, and is it contagious?

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (or inactive) in the body. For unknown reasons, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles. Because the varicella zoster virus is already inside a person’s body, the infected individual cannot pass shingles along to someone else.

What if my child was exposed to someone with shingles?

Although shingles itself is not contagious, a person with shingles can expose others to the chickenpox virus from their rash, so those who have not had chickenpox before (or the vaccine that provides protective immunity) are at risk of developing it. My daughter was not old enough for the vaccine (she had yet to turn 12 months old), so our pediatrician told us to keep an eye on our daughter, as she was at risk. Thankfully, she did not contract the virus.

Who should get the Varicella (chickenpox) vaccine?

The CDC recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents, and adults who have not had the chickenpox. Children should receive two doses of the vaccine — the first dose at 12 through 15 months old and a second dose at 4 through 6 years old. Adolescents aged 13 years or older (who have never had chickenpox and who have not received the chickenpox vaccine) should get two doses at least 28 days apart. Anyone else who is not fully vaccinated, and never had chickenpox, should receive one or two doses of the chickenpox vaccine. The timing of those doses will depend on the individual’s age, and a doctor should be consulted.

How can adults prevent getting shingles?

They can get vaccinated! For adults, the shingles (herpes zoster) vaccination reduces the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain from post-herpetic neuralgia – an extremely painful complication caused by shingles. The CDC recommends the shingles vaccine for people aged 60 years and older. Even those who have had shingles in the past can receive the vaccine to help prevent future occurrences of the disease. Ask your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated today.

Both the shingles and chickenpox viruses can be very painful and dangerous, so parents – ensure your child gets the chickenpox vaccine when they are old enough, and adults – protect yourself from a bad case of shingles and get vaccinated. Again, the idea is to prevent what is preventable. In this case, the whole family can get on board for the greatest protection possible.

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