About one in three people who have not been immunised against chickenpox or shingles will get shingles in their lifetime.
Shingles is also called herpes zoster. It is a disease caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus. It causes a painful blistering rash.
It is a serious disease that usually affects older people and can cause severe nerve pain that can last for months. The older you are if you get shingles, the higher your risk of getting serious disease.
People who have a weakened immune system are also at risk of getting more severe disease, even if they are young.
It can also lead to:
- serious eye problems, including blindness
- hearing problems
- swelling of the brain
Shingles symptoms include:
- a tingling, burning sensation in the area - this is where a painful blistering rash will appear
- discomfort when looking at bright lights.
Symptoms can occur for several days before the rash appears. The rash can last about 10 to 15 days. It often makes a stripe or belt-like pattern on one side of the face or body.
The rash forms small blisters, which fill with liquid and burst before the skin crusts over and heals. Sometimes the rash can become infected.
Sometimes the pain is still there even after the rash goes away. If the pain lasts for more than three months, it is called post-herpetic neuralgia.
150,000 cases of shingles occur in Australia each year and by 85 years of age, one in two Australians will have had it. The cost to the national health budget is nearly $17 million dollars with 3,600 hospitalisations and 105,000 GP consultations.
Vaccinating senior Australians is an important component of preventive medicine and is highly recommended for 60 to 79 year olds.
Antivirals can reduce the severity and duration of shingles if administered within 72 hours, but does not prevent the development of shingles, which is difficult to treat.
Shingles vaccines are given as a needle and are only available on their own (not as a combination vaccine). They can be provided by a variety of recognised immunisation providers. If you're eligible, you can get the shingles vaccine for free under the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
See the NIP Schedule to find out which vaccines you or your family are eligible to receive.
Eligible people get the vaccine for free, but your health care provider may charge a consultation fee for the visit. You can check this when you make your appointment.
If you are not eligible for a free vaccine, you may need to pay for it. The cost depends on the type of vaccine, the formula and where you buy it from. Your immunisation provider can give you more information or you can visit the health department website.
Contact your State and Territory Health Department for information about any additional immunisation programs specific to your State or Territory.
Have you, or someone close to you, had shingles before? Perhaps you've had it twice - or have had it once and then been vaccinated?
We are looking for people to share their story in the Summer edition of Our Generation.
We would also like to know whether you've been vaccinated and how you found the process.