Merck: Older adults should take steps to avoid shingles

Most adults age 60 and older plan to ask their healthcare professional about flu prevention this year but are significantly less likely to ask about other serious diseases like shingles, Merck said on Tuesday.

Merck sponsored the Harris Interactive consumer awareness survey, which found that 68 percent of the more than 600 adults surveyed were at least somewhat likely to ask their doctors or pharmacists about preventing the flu. The survey found that 79 percent of older adults would be at least somewhat likely to get the shingles vaccine if it were recommended by their pharmacist or doctor.

The adults surveyed were 58 percent more likely to get the shingles vaccines if it was recommended than if they were left to ask for the vaccine proactively.

"It is important for people age 60 and older to get the shingles vaccine because it is the only way to help reduce the risk of getting shingles, but vaccination rates for shingles remain well below those for other adult vaccines against flu or pneumococcal disease," Eddy Bresnitz, the executive director of global medical affairs and policy for Merck Vaccines Division, said. "The results from this poll are a clear call to action for health care providers. It is important that a conversation about shingles takes place with their patients, both about the disease and vaccination against it."

Shingles, the common name for herpes zoster, is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has chickenpox, the virus stays in the body and can later cause shingles, a very painful rash.

Zostavax is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for adults 50 and older to prevent shingles. The CDC recommends that adults 60 or above get vaccinated to prevent shingles.