A vaccine to prevent shingles, a common, painful skin disease is now available on the NHS to people in their 70s.
The shingles vaccine is given as a single injection for anyone aged 70 or 79. Unlike the flu jab, you'll only need to have the vaccination once.
The vaccine is expected to reduce your risk of getting shingles. If you are unlucky enough to go on to have the disease, your symptoms may be milder and the illness shorter.
Shingles can be very painful and uncomfortable. Some people are left with pain lasting for years after the initial rash has healed. And shingles is fatal for around 1 in 1,000 over-70s who develop it.
It's fine to have the shingles vaccine if you've already had shingles. The shingles vaccine works very well in people who have had shingles before and it will boost your immunity against further shingles attacks.
What is shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus) in people who have previously had chickenpox.
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 can have the shingles vaccination?
Shingles vaccination is offered routinely as part of the NHS vaccination programme for people aged 70 or 79. The first people to have the vaccine will be those aged 70 or 79 on September 1 2013.
If you were aged 70 or 79 on September 1 2013 but become 71 or 80 before attending for vaccination, you will still be able to have the shingles vaccine.
If you are aged 71 to 78 on September 1 2013, your next opportunity to have the shingles vaccine will be after you have reached the age of 79.
The brand name of the shingles vaccine given in the UK is Zostavax.
Can I have the shingles vaccination privately?
The shingles jab is available privately for anyone over the age of 50. It's expensive and in very short supply, though. Expect to pay between £100 and £200. Your GP can advise on whether it's safe for you to have, but you may need to visit a private clinic to arrange this.
How is the shingles vaccine given?
As an injection into the upper arm.
How does the shingles vaccine work?
The vaccine contains a weakened chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus). It's similar, but not identical to, the chickenpox vaccine.
Very occasionally, people have developed a chickenpox-like illness following shingles vaccination (fewer than 1 in 10,000 individuals).
How long will the shingles vaccine protect me for?
It's difficult to be precise, but research to date suggests the shingles vaccine will protect you for at least three years, probably longer.
How safe is the shingles vaccine?
There is lots of evidence showing that the new shingles vaccine is very safe. It's already been used in several countries, including the US and Canada, and no safety concerns have been raised. The vaccine also has few side effects.
How is shingles spread?
You don't "catch" shingles – it comes on when there's a reawakening of chickenpox virus that's already in your body. The virus can be reactivated because of advancing age, medication, illness or stress and so on.
Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. It's estimated that around one in five people who have had chickenpox go on to develop shingles.
People tend to get shingles more often as they get older, especially over the age of 70. And the older you are, the worse it can be. The shingles rash can be extremely painful, such that sufferers can't even 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).