Everything you need to know about shingles

September 21, 2017

 

Have you been vaccinated?

So, what is shingles? And why are people over 50 more susceptible to it?

 

As many boomers would have experienced chickenpox at a younger age, they may be unaware that the zoster virus (shingles) can lie dormant in nerve roots near the spine for years. The virus can be reactivated, causing shingles. This can happen especially if you’re rundown and your immune system is vulnerable. It also more prevalently affects older people because the immune system becomes less efficient with age.

 

Quick facts about shingles:

  • 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetime

  • It is preventable by vaccine

  • FREE vaccinations are available at your medical practice for people aged 70 – 79 years.

  • It is treatable by a medical professional

  • It can be resolved within days to weeks

 

What is it?

Shingles is an infection of an individual nerve and the skin surface that is supplied by the nerve; it is caused by the varicella-zoster virus - the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Shingles is the reactivation of the chickenpox virus and is a common condition with risk and related complications increasing with age. 97% of adults have the virus that has shingles within them and there is no way to predict who will develop shingles, when the virus will reactivate, how severe it will be and how long the pain will last.

 

Who can get it?

Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox, child or adult, can get shingles.

You cannot catch shingles from someone who has shingles. But, if you have not had chickenpox you can catch chickenpox by being in direct contact with fluid on the blisters of someone who has shingles.

 

What are the common symptoms?

The most common symptom of shingles is a painful, blistering rash, usually on one side of the body.  People who have shingles often say the pain is excruciating, making it hard to sleep, walk or enjoy everyday life.

 

Symptoms usually last between 2-4 weeks. Pain sometimes persists after the rash has gone, more commonly in people over the age of 50.

 

How long will it last?

While shingles is often a treatable ailment for many sufferers, it can be a debilitating illness, affecting your energy levels, mood swings, pain levels and in some cases, can cause serious complications that may continue for months, if not years.

 

Ask anyone who has had shingles, and they will most probably tell you it’s a malady you won’t forget in a hurry. While the physical symptoms may subside within about three weeks, it can affect your everyday life for far longer, particularly if you’re working or leading an active social and family life. In other words, it can seriously knock you for six.

 

What you may not know about shingles:

You may be more vulnerable to shingles if you’re being treated for certain cancers, have recently had an organ or bone marrow transplant, have HIV/AIDS, are on drugs that suppress immunity or you’re undergoing elevated levels of stress.

 

It can also trigger depression or make you more at risk of stroke, there are many complications of shingles beyond a rash and some pain. A common yet little known complication of shingles is post herpetic neuralgia (PHN), a debilitating form of nerve damage pain. Current figures suggest that more than 50 per cent of those diagnosed with shingles will get PHN - and this can occasionally go on for years. It can seriously affect your quality of life with PHN leading to other chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, depression and heart failure.

 

Who is eligible for the free vaccination?

The shingles vaccination is free for all adults 70 years of age from November 2016.

A single catch-up dose will be funded for adults aged 71–79 years until 31 October 2021.

Don’t delay, ask your GP about getting vaccinated today.

 

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