A new national NHS Vaccination Programme to prevent shingles is now available on the NHS to eligible people in their 70s.
From today, the shingles vaccine will be offered routinely to people aged 70 and 78. You become eligible for the vaccine from the first day of September 2015 after you have turned 70 or 78.
In addition, anyone who was eligible for immunisation in the first two years of the programme but has not yet been vaccinated against shingles remains eligible until their 80th birthday. This includes:
• people aged 71 and 72 on 1 September 2015
• people aged 79
The shingles vaccination is available at any time of the year, though many people will find it convenient to have it at the same time as their annual flu vaccination.
What is shingles?
Shingles isn’t something you ‘catch’ – it comes on when there's a reawakening of the chickenpox virus that's already in your body. It's estimated that around one in five people who have had chickenpox go on to develop shingles. The virus can be reactivated because of advancing age, medication, illness or stress.
What are the symptoms?
The shingles rash can be extremely painful. It begins with a burning sensation in the skin, followed by a rash of very painful fluid-filled blisters that can then burst and turn into sores before healing. Often an area on just one side of the body is affected, usually the chest but sometimes the head, face and eye.
Who is at risk?
People tend to get shingles more often as they get older, especially over the age of 70 and can be fatal for around 1 in 1,000 over-70s who develop it. The older you are, the worse it can be. The shingles rash can be extremely painful, so that sufferers can't bear the feeling of their clothes touching the affected skin. The pain of shingles can also linger long after the rash has disappeared, even for many years. This lingering pain is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
It is not known exactly why the shingles virus is reactivated at a later stage in life, but most cases are thought to be caused by having lowered immunity (protection against infections and diseases).
This may be the result of:
• being older
• being stressed
• taking medication that weakens your immune system
• a condition that affects your immune system, such as HIV or AIDS
How likely am I to catch shingles?
It is not possible to catch shingles from someone with the condition or from someone with chickenpox, but you can catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have not had it before. It is possible to have shingles more than once, but it's very rare to get it more than twice.
When to seek medical advice
Shingles is not usually serious, but you should see your GP as soon as possible if you recognise the symptoms. Early treatment may help reduce the severity of your symptoms and the risk of developing complications.
You should also see your GP if you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system (the body's natural defence system) and you think you have been exposed to someone with chickenpox or shingles and haven't had chickenpox before.
How do I access the vaccination?
Your GP will invite you to the surgery for the vaccination.