Shingles is a viral infection of the nerve cells and surrounding skin. When people get chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body and can be reactivated when the immune system is weakened because of things like stress, certain other conditions and treatments like chemotherapy.

The first sign of shingles can be a tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin, along with a headache or feeling generally unwell. You usually get shingles on your chest and tummy but it can appear on your face, eyes and genitals. If you develop a rash over your forehead, nose and around your eye, conjunctivitis or problems with your vision, you may have ophthalmic shingles and you should see a GP immediately.

If you think you have shingles (not ophthalmic), you should make a routine appointment to see a GP. Shingles is less infectious than chickenpox. You cannot get shingles from someone with shingles or chickenpox but you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you haven’t had chickenpox before. If you think you have or are diagnosed with shingles, you should try to avoid pregnant women who have not had chickenpox  before, people with a weakened immune system and babies less than one month old that are not your own baby.

Contracting shingles can lead to a severe, painful and devastating rash and illness, particularly for older people. In severe cases shingles can lead to death. The severity of the illness increases with age – people aged 70 and over are at an increased risk. Over 50,000 cases of shingles occur in this age group each year in England and Wales – approximately 50 of these cases result in death. Of the 50,000 cases, 14,000 of these will develop PHN (Post-Herpetic Neuralgia) which is a painful and long lasting complication of shingles. This complication can be debilitating and disruptive. It can persist for many months, even years. The pain can be difficult to manage and there can be a negative impact on a sufferers’ quality of life. The disease can affect sight, sleep, confidence and independence – it can stop people from doing and enjoying all the things they usually do.

Individuals over the age of 70 are not only at an increased risk of developing the disease but also suffer a more severe form of the illness resulting in complications such as PHN. A shingles vaccination programme started in England in September 2013 and is now routinely offered to patients aged 70 as recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). The aim is to reduce the incidence and severity of shingles and shingles related complications in older people. The shingles vaccine does not prevent shingles but it does reduce the risk and can mean that if you do catch shingles despite being vaccinated, the symptoms are much milder.

The eligibility for the vaccine changes on a yearly basis. Currently, the vaccine should be offered to patients age 70, 78, 79 or anyone in their 70s who was born on or after 1st September 1942 (please see the Eligibility document if you are unsure whether or not you are eligible to receive the vaccine). The shingles vaccination programme is not offered to patients once they turn 80 due to the reducing effectiveness of the vaccine as patients’ age. The vaccination programme has shown to have a significant positive impact on the reduction of cases of shingles - the first three years of the programme produced a reduction in shingles diagnoses that equates to 17,000 fewer consultations. It is important that those who can benefit from the vaccine are appropriately immunised.

Having the routine shingles vaccine is a good way of looking after their health so that they can get on with enjoying life without the pain of shingles.

The vaccine used (Zostavax) was shown to reduce the incidence of shingles by 38% during clinical trials (17,775 adults).

Unfortunately, there is a year on year decline in the uptake of the shingles vaccine. The practice is determined to vaccinate as many of our eligible patients as possible. The vaccination takes place in a routine, 10 minute appointment with one of our Healthcare Assistants or Practice Nurses. Please call the surgery on 02476 315432 as soon as possible to make an appointment.

More information on shingles can be found on the NHS Choices website.

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