OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Infectious diseases can be top of mind for many in the midst of holiday gatherings.
Some good news is the majority of young people in the United States have been vaccinated against chickenpox.
While it’s significantly decreased the instances of the virus – what does it mean for this generation’s risk of shingles in the future?
For those of us who had chickenpox growing up – the threat of a shingles diagnosis lies in our body for years.
“The virus stays in you and then can be re-activated and called shingles – so it’s the same virus – herpes zoster,” said Dr. Hal Scofield with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
He says the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine in 1995 was a game changer.
“That vaccine looks like it reduces the rate of chickenpox by about 80% so maybe 20% of people still get chickenpox – but those people may have a really mild case they barely notice,” Scofield said.
According to the CDC – over recent years an estimated 90% of U.S. children have been vaccinated against chickenpox by age 2 – and new cases of the disease in those under age 20 have dropped as much as 97 percent.
OMRF researchers are now trying to pin down the possible singles risk– even for those vaccinated against chickenpox.
“If the vaccine prevented you from getting infected – you shouldn’t be at risk for shingles,” Scofield said. “Shingles is the reactivation of the virus that’s been lying in you lately in a laten way all those years. So if you’ve never been infected because you got the vaccine – you shouldn’t be at risk but it sort of remains to be seen.”
Of course – there is a shingles vaccine you can get.
The CDC recommends it for adults 50 years and older and for those 19 and older who have weakened immune systems.