There are a lot of misconceptions amongst the general population about shingles … mainly how a person “catches “ shingles and how it can be prevented and treated .
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body, specifically in the nerve tissues near the spinal cord and brain.
In some cases, typically years later, the varicella-zoster virus can reactivate and cause shingles. The exact reason for reactivation is not fully understood, but it is thought to be associated with a weakened immune system due to aging, stress, illness, or certain medications.
The primary symptom of shingles is a very painful, blistering rash that typically appears on one side of the body, often in a band or strip along a nerve pathway. The rash usually develops into fluid-filled blisters that eventually crust over and heal. Many patients describe other symptoms such as itching, tingling, sensitivity to touch, and a burning or stabbing pain in the affected area.
Some individuals with shingles also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, and a general feeling of being unwell. The rash can usually take several weeks to heal completely.
One of the most significant concerns with shingles is the potential for postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). This condition involves persistent nerve pain in the area where the shingles rash occurred. PHN can last for weeks, months, or even years after the rash has healed and can be debilitating for some individuals.
Treatment typically involves antiviral medications to reduce the severity and duration of the rash. Pain management techniques, such as over-the-counter pain relievers, topical creams, and prescription medications, may also be recommended to alleviate discomfort.
Getting vaccinated against shingles is an effective way to reduce the risk of developing the infection and its complications, especially for individuals aged 50 and older. and those who are immunocompromised Here are some key reasons why you should consider getting vaccinated.
Prevention of shingles:
Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. The shingles vaccine can significantly reduce the risk of developing shingles. By getting vaccinated, you lower your chances of experiencing the painful rash, blisters, and other symptoms associated with shingles.
Reduction in postherpetic neuralgia (PHN):
PHN is a common complication of shingles, characterized by persistent nerve pain in the area where the shingles rash occurred. It can last for months or even years after the rash has healed. Vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of PHN in individuals who develop shingles.
Increased effectiveness with age:
The risk of shingles and its complications, including PHN, increases with age. By getting vaccinated, you enhance your immune response to the varicella-zoster virus and improve your protection against shingles. Vaccination is particularly crucial for individuals aged 50 and older, as they are at higher risk.
From September 2023, Shingrix is replacing Zostavax in the routine immunisation programme should be offered at 60 years of age. The choice of age group was based on evidence that the greatest number of cases would be prevented by administering the vaccine at this age. This is being rolled out over a period of years starting with those aged 65 and 70.
Those who have been previously eligible will remain eligible until their 80th birthday. Where an individual has turned 80 years of age following their first dose of Shingrix, a second dose should be provided before the individual’s 81st birthday to complete the course. For full details please refer to the "Green Book".
Protection for individuals with weakened immune systems:
Shingles can be more severe in individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those undergoing cancer treatment or taking immunosuppressive medications. Vaccination can provide added protection for these individuals and reduce the risk of complications.
Prevention of shingles transmission:
The varicella-zoster virus can be transmitted to individuals who have never had chickenpox or the varicella vaccine, potentially causing them to develop chickenpox instead of shingles. By getting vaccinated against shingles, you lower the likelihood of transmitting the virus to others.
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