There's now a vaccine to help protect you against
Shingles is a condition that is caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus.
90% of adults raised in the UK have had chickenpox, although not everyone may recall having it. If you have had chickenpox then you are at risk of developing shingles.
The Department of Health introduced the national shingles immunisation programme in adults aged between 70-79 years, to help protect against shingles and its complications. For more information and to find out if you’re eligible for shingles vaccination, see below:
Shingles immunisation programme
The Department of Health introduced the national shingles immunisation programme for people aged 70-79 to help protect those who are most at risk from shingles and its complications.
As the programme will be phased in over the next few years, not everyone will be eligible for the vaccine this year. If you are eligible for the vaccination, your GP surgery may contact you and ask you to book an appointment.
Vaccine groups are defined by age on 1st September. The vaccine is currently being offered to those people who
were aged 70, 71, 72, 78 or 79 on 1st September 2015.
What about people aged under 70 or over 79 on 1st September 2015?
People under 70 will be offered the shingles vaccine in the year following their seventieth birthday. From 1st September 2015 people aged 80 and over are not part of the national programme because the vaccine seems to be less effective in this age group.
Please note: programme details may vary depending on which country you are in. Please speak to your GP surgery regarding eligibility.
What is shingles?
Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is a condition that is caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus.
After people have chickenpox - usually as a child - the virus travels up a nerve root and lies dormant (inactive inside you), near the spine. Later in life the virus can reactivate and cause shingles. The reasons for reactivation aren't completely known. Reaching an older age or having conditions that affect the immune
system make the virus much more likely to reactivate.
Shingles tends to occur more often in older people and is usually characterised by a painful rash on one side of the body, which develops into fluid-filled blisters.
What are the symptoms?
The severity of the symptoms of shingles can range from mild to severe and can be very unpleasant for some.
Shingles is characterised by a painful rash, usually affecting one side of the body, most often on the upper body, but
shingles can also develop on the head and neck, or the eye.
Shingles usually starts with a headache, fever, and tiredness, and you are likely to feel unwell. It’s very common to feel a tingling or burning pain in the area of the skin where the rash later appears. In a small proportion of people this pain may become quite severe.
Within a few days or weeks, a rash will develop over the area of pain, which will turn into fluid-filled blisters. A few days after appearing, the blisters dry out and scabs form where the blisters have been. It usually takes 2-4 weeks for the rash to heal completely.
Most people recover but some people may experience long-term nerve pain that can remain for many months, or
for a few people even years. This is known as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). Like shingles itself, the risk of nerve damage and developing long-lasting nerve pain increases as you get older.
Are treatments available?
Yes, there are treatments available for shingles.
The severity of shingles varies from person to person and some people will require treatment to help ease the symptoms of shingles.
If you think you've developed shingles, see your GP as soon as possible. Early treatment may help reduce the severity of your symptoms and the risk of developing complications. Your GP may prescribe painkilling medication or antiviral medication.
For further information on available treatments, you can visit NHS choices at http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Shingles/Pages/Treatment.aspx*
What are the complications?
Most people do not have any long-term effects, but for some people shingles can cause complications.
The long-term nerve pain that some people experience after shingles is known as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). This can be a severe, unpleasant, long-term nerve pain that is often described as burning, stabbing or throbbing. This can last weeks, months or for a few people, even years.
For some people even a slight breeze against the skin can be painful and distressing. PHN can affect quality of life and the majority of sufferers say they have less enjoyment of life and find their sleep, work and social life disrupted. The older you are, the more likely you are to have long-lasting nerve pain.
Sometimes shingles can develop in the eye and/or affect the skin of the eyelid. This can cause severe pain and lead to decreased vision or, rarely, permanent blindness in the affected eye.
Shingles can also lead to other complications like scarring, skin infections or, rarely, hearing loss.
How likely am I to get shingles?
Around 1 in 4 adults in the UK develop shingles during their lifetime.
It is not fully understood why the shingles virus reactivates in some people and not others, but it is thought to be due to a weaker immune system.
The immune system weakens with age and so the chance of developing shingles increases as we get older. It is most common and tends to be more severe in people
aged over 70 years.
In order to manage the Shingles Immunisation Programme effectively, patients who are eligible this year will be written to inviting them to attend one of our clinics. This will be done in stages and will be dependent on the availability of vaccines, so please wait to receive your invitation letter before requesting an appointment, to ensure that there is enough vaccine available for everyone who is eligible.