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Shingles vaccinations are now being offered to older people

March 2019

Person having an injection
Older people are being invited in for a shingles vaccination

Shingles is a bit like gout, a disease we have heard of but something that often isn’t taken very seriously...until one has it oneself. 

Also known as herpes zoster, shingles is an infection of a nerve or nerves and the skin around it. It is caused by the same virus that is responsible for chicken pox, and this is the problem for people when they get older. This virus, herpes zoster, can lie dormant in the nerve cells for years and you will have no idea it is there. But then, as you age and your immune system becomes weaker, the virus can suddenly reappear, not as another dose of chickenpox but as shingles.

Shingles can be mild, but it can also be extremely painful, with a burning sensation on the skin, sensitivity to touch, and often a red rash. It can then proceed to fluid filled blisters and itching. Overall, you may not feel very well at all.

Even worse, in some cases it can result in postherpetic neuralgia, a long lasting pain that can continue for years after the initial rash has gone.

In very rare cases shingles can also be fatal.

So this disease is not something to be taken likely. It is also a lot more common than many people realise. One in five people who have had chicken pox sometime in their lives, usually as a child, will go on to develop shingles at some point. Thousands of people in the UK develop shingles every year.

Now there is a vaccination available and the NHS is offering this free to anyone aged between 70 and 78. You can also get the vaccination privately at any age, although there is a cost factor and currently a limited supply.

The NHS is running a programme contacting people in the selected age range to come in for the vaccination.

The main vaccine used in the UK for shingles is Zostavax. While this will only reduce the risk of shingles by around 51%, if you still go on to develop shingles after the vaccination, you may experience reduced symptoms and a quicker recovery.

Chickenpox was a very common childhood illness when we were young, so many of our age group may still be carrying this virus. However, even if you didn’t have chickenpox, the general medical advice is that it is worth having the vaccination anyway as the chances are you may have had chicken pox at some time without knowing it, and therefore the virus might be in your body somewhere.

There are certain conditions, such as having a blood disorder or any type of cancer that weakens your immune system, when having the Zostavax vaccination may not be advisable. If you have any questions you should discuss this with your GP.

There is a lot of information on line including at:

medicines.org.uk

nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions


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