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ARLINGTON, Va. — Tricare beneficiaries 60 and older are now covered if they decided to get vaccinated with Zostavax to prevent shingles, a painful viral disease.

Formally known as herpes zoster, shingles is caused by the same Varicella-Zoster virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox can later develop shingles, because the virus remains dormant in the nerve cells of the spinal column long after the chickenpox infection clears.

Shingles appears as a localized skin rash on one side of the face or body, often featuring fluid-filled blisters. The rash causes excruciating pain and is accompanied by flulike symptoms that can include headache, fever, chills and nausea.

Each year, more than a million people, most 60 and older, come down with shingles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because shingles is a virus, scientists were able to develop a vaccine to fight it, trade-named Zostavax.

Zostavax, which was licensed by the Federal Drug Administration in July, is more than 50 percent effective in reducing incidents of shingles, and more than 60 percent effective in reducing some of its associated symptoms, according to its manufacturer, Merck & Co., Inc.

Tricare beneficiaries should note that Zostavax is covered as a medical benefit, not a pharmacy benefit, and should be administered in a medical provider’s office. For questions, contact the Tricare regional claims processor named in the “Explanation of Benefits” notice.

All studies concerning Zostavax were conducted using people 60 and older, according to the according to the Centers for Disease Control.

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