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For people with Down syndrome, family members, caregivers and professionals.

Shingles Vaccine

November 2010 | Brian Chicoine, MD - Medical Director, Adult Down Syndrome Center

Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the virus Varicella Zoster (a member of the herpes family). In a person who has had chicken pox (also caused by Varicella Zoster), the virus lies dormant in nerve cells and at later time can become reactivated as shingles. Sometimes it will become reactivated when the person has immune system impairment. Shingles can take several weeks to resolve but this can be significantly shortened by treating with anti-viral medication. Unfortunately, some people develop post-herpetic neuralgia, a condition that can cause severe pain along the nerve path. This can last years.

Shingles vaccine is a live virus vaccine that helps reduce the chance of getting shingles by about half and the chance of developing post-herpetic neuralgia by about two-thirds. It has been found to be effective for and is recommended for people age 60 and older.

It is not recommended for people who:

  • Have certain life-threatening allergies (gelatin, neomycin, or any component of the vaccine)

  • Have an immune deficiency (which can be the result of AIDS, certain cancer treatments, certain types of cancer, or an immune suppression medication)

  • Are pregnant

People with Down syndrome are noted to have a higher incidence of some immune dysfunction. Based on this, it might seem reasonable to think that people with DS would be affected more commonly by shingles. Interestingly, we have not seen a lot of shingles in our practice. When we have seen shingles in our patients with Down syndrome, it is often at a much younger age, long before the recommended age for the shingles vaccine.

The level of immune dysfunction associated with Down syndrome is not enough for people with DS to be in the group for whom shingles vaccine is not recommended.

Therefore, we recommend following the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control: Anyone age 60 or older should get the shingles vaccine.

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