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Docs: Shingles shot can come with side effects

December 4, 2018

Usually, when someone comes down with a fever and aches at this time of year, it’s because of the flu. But some area residents are getting laid low by another culprit — the new vaccine to prevent shingles.

Bridgeport Hospital infectious disease chief Zane Saul said he’s seen many patients get hit hard by the side effects of Shingrix, the vaccine against the painful viral illness.

“I’ve seen people bedridden for two days who thought they had the flu,” Saul said.

When it arrived earlier this year, Shingrix was lauded for its more than 90 percent effective in preventing shingles. The vaccine’s popularity even caused a shortage that is just now starting to abate, said Dr. Richard Martinello, associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine.

“It has just been so much in demand,” he said.

Yet, while many people seem to be aware of the vaccine and its benefits, Saul and Martinello, said most of their patients don’t seem to know about such side effects as severe joint aches and fever.

“This doesn’t mean people shouldn’t get it,” Saul said. “But this is definitely something they should be aware of.”

Shingles is not a disease anybody wants. A viral infection that causes a painful rash all over the body, it will develop in one out of three people in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

So many in the health community cheered the arrival this year of Shingrix. By comparison, the previous vaccine, Zostavax, reduced the risk of shingles by 51 percent.

“(Shingrix is) so much more effective,” Martinello said. “It not only works much better, but its ability to protect someone from having the shingles lasts much longer.”

But Shingrix has more common severe side effects, according to the CDC. With Zostavax, about one in the three people got redness, soreness or other irritation at the injection site, and one in 70 got headaches. With Shingrix, about one in six people experienced side effects that prevented them from doing regular activities.

Shingrix symptoms tend to go away in a couple days, according to the CDC, but they can be alarming for those not expecting them, Saul said.

“I don’t think a lot of people knew about this before getting” the shot he said.

The vaccine is recommended for those 50 and older, and patients typically receive two doses separated by two to six months. Saul said that in his experience, the side effects seem to happen more often after the second booster dose. Martinello expressed concern that the symptoms could scare people off the second dose.

“If people aren’t aware (of the side effects), they might think they’re having an allergic reaction,” Martinello said.

Both Martinello and Saul said they still recommend the vaccine, because it’s so effective. Often, Saul said, when he tells people about the side effects, they still go through with the shot, “because they’d rather have the side effects than the shingles.”

He does advise preparing for the shot, such as by taking ibuprofen or Tylenol beforehand.

“Maybe get it on a Friday, so you have a couple days off if there’s a problem,” Saul said.

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