This Cause of Blindness Is Soaring Among Seniors

This Cause of Blindness Is Soaring Among Seniors
Photo by Lisa F. Young / Shutterstock.com

Here’s another reason to get the newest shingles virus vaccine: Your eyesight might depend on it.

The number of cases of shingles of the eye — known as herpes zoster ophthalmicus — tripled between 2004 and 2016, say researchers at the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center. The condition can potentially cause blindness.

According to a University of Michigan announcement, shingles of the eye infections most commonly occur in women and adults over age 75.

The Kellogg Eye Center’s recently unveiled research adds weight to the recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that all people age 50 and older get the shingles vaccine called Shingrix.

About 1 in 3 Americans will get shingles during their lifetime, and the risk increases with age, according to the CDC.

Fortunately, the Shingrix vaccine is far more effective than an earlier shingles vaccine known as Zostavax. As we reported last year:

“The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices reported that clinical trials found the Shingrix vaccine to be more than 90% effective in preventing shingles in folks ages 50 and older.”

By contrast, Zostavax is only 38% to 70% effective. Thus, the CDC recommends a Shingrix vaccination even if you have had Zostavax in the past.

What is shingles?

Shingles is a painful, blistering rash. The rash typically clears up within a few weeks, although it can lead to prolonged complications.

According to the CDC, the most common complication is postherpetic neuralgia, a condition with lingering pain in the areas where a person had the shingles rash. The pain can last for months or years after the rash is gone.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.

After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the body and can reactivate years later, causing shingles. So, if you’ve had chickenpox, you’re at risk for shingles.

Vaccine shortage continues

Vaccination with Shingrix is a two-step process that involves a pair of doses two to six months apart.

However, there have been periodic shortages of the vaccine that have forced some people to wait for longer before receiving their second dose. The CDC expects ordering limits and intermittent shipping delays to continue through 2019.

If you are trying to find the vaccine, you can use the CDC’s Vaccine Finder tool or the locator tool from GSK, the vaccine’s manufacturer.

If you have already received one Shingrix shot, talk to your pharmacist about availability for your second shot. According to a recent report in Pharmacy Times:

“Pharmacists have created waiting lists and helped to ensure that patients who have received the first dose of the vaccine are given priority for the second dose once the shipments arrive.”

What’s your take on this news? Share your thoughts in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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