The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommend a new vaccine, Zostavax, for anyone age 60 or older. The vaccine reduces the incidence of painful shingles, also known as herpes zoster, which is caused by the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus (VZV).
VZV causes the childhood disease, chickenpox, and anyone who has ever had chickenpox can become infected with shingles. A shingles outbreak begins when the dormant virus becomes active again and produces a band-like pattern of very painful blisters that develop in clusters on one side of the body. The pain, which can be severe and debilitating, can last anywhere from several weeks to several years.
More than 95% of the population has been infected by the VZV at some point during their life, which means more than 95% of the population is at risk for developing shingles. The risk of developing shingles increases around age 50 and becomes higher as a person ages. According to CDC estimates, half of the population age 85 and older has had or can expect to develop shingles.