People in their 70s are being urged to protect themselves against shingles with a free vaccine.
GP practices across Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight are offering the vaccination as part of the NHS shingles vaccination programme for 2017/18, which began on 1 September 2017. All eligible people are encouraged to book an appointment with their GP practice for their free shingles vaccination.
By the end of August 2017, not even half of all eligible 70 year olds in the Wessex area had been vaccinated against shingles but the NHS is encouraging everyone who is offered the vaccine to take it up.
Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox. Most people have chickenpox as children, but the infection lays dormant in the nervous system, even after recovery from the illness. This can reactivate later in life when the immune system is weakened to cause shingles.
As people get older their immune system naturally weakens; which is why those aged 70 and over are more likely to get shingles.
Shingles is a very itchy, painful, burning group of blisters. Shingles can be very painful and debilitating and because it reactivates in the nervous system, it can lead to nerve pain and other health problems long after the initial rash has disappeared. The rash commonly affects one area of the body, often the chest, but it can also affect any nerves – including those in the face and eyes – and can last up to four weeks.
However for some people, pain can persist for several months, or even years, after the rash has disappeared.
Complications of shingles can be also be fatal for around 1 in 1,000 over-70s who develop the illness which is why it is so important that eligible people take up the offer and get vaccinated against the virus.
Clare Simpson, Consultant in Public Health and Screening and Immunisation Lead in the Wessex area said:
“Shingles can lead to pain and misery for many elderly people, so please check your eligibility for the vaccine with your GP practice and book an appointment as soon as possible for your injection. One simple vaccination can save you having to go through a long, painful and debilitating illness”
Gwynneth Moore, from Hampshire, was diagnosed with shingles five years ago and has the following advice:
“Shingles can develop almost anywhere on your face or body but the first symptom I had was an acute pain in my eye. Two days later, a rash appeared all over the side my face and head and I felt generally unwell. I was diagnosed with shingles and have been taking medication for five years. My eye remains painful and the virus has caused my sight to deteriorate.
“ I cannot emphasise enough the pain and misery of shingles. Shingles has had the most devastating effect on my life and I would certainly recommend the vaccination to all eligible elderly people.”
The shingles vaccine will often be offered alongside the annual flu vaccine, but it does not need to be and should be given at any time during the year.
People who become eligible for the vaccine remain eligible until their 80th birthday. People nearing their 80th birthday are particularly encouraged to book an appointment for vaccination if they have not already done so to ensure they are protected.
The NHS encourages eligible people to speak to their GP practice to arrange to be vaccinated.