Vaccination Update March 2023: Shingles
If you are aged 70 or older you may be invited to have the Shingles vaccine.
Please note: The shingles vaccine does not help a person who already has shingles or post-herpetic neuralgia*.
You cannot get shingles from someone else with shingles OR chickenpox.
But you may get chickenpox – which then increases your life-time risk of shingles.
According to the British Skin Foundation: Shingles is a painful blistering rash caused by the reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox, known as the varicella zoster virus.
The virus is called herpes zoster when it causes shingles and herpes varicella when it causes chickenpox.
They were named before it was known that a single virus was responsible for both conditions.
When people get chickenpox, the virus remains in the body. It can be reactivated later and cause shingles if someone’s immune system is lowered.
About 1 person in 5 will develop shingles at some time. Most outbreaks of shingles occur for no obvious reason, but are more likely if the individual:
- is elderly,
- is experiencing physical or emotional stress,
- has an illness that weakens the immune system, such as leukaemia, lymphoma (e.g., Hodgkin’s disease) or HIV infection,
- is taking treatments that suppress the immune system, including radiotherapy for cancer, chemotherapy, steroid drugs, and drugs taken to prevent organ rejection.
You cannot get shingles from someone with shingles or chickenpox.
But you can get chickenpox from someone with shingles if you have not had chickenpox before.
A person with shingles is infectious from the point of the first blister appearing to when the blisters crust over (approx. 7 days), but it can take up to 4 weeks for the rash to completely heal.
Shingles usually resolves on its own within a few weeks. Antiviral medication (tablets) may help clear the rash and reduce the risk of complications. The pain caused by shingles* may persist long after the rash has cleared, particularly in the elderly. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia and may persist for a long time. Your GP will be able to advise the best treatment for this.
According to the NHS website: There are 2 shingles vaccines available in the UK:
- Zostavax, a live vaccine given as 1 dose
- Shingrix, a non-live vaccine given as 2 doses
Zostavax is not suitable for people who have a weakened immune system due to a condition, treatment, or medicine, as it is a ‘live’ vaccine, Shingrix may be more suitable for you.
You should not have the shingles vaccine if you’ve had a serious allergic reaction (including an anaphylactic reaction) in the past to a previous dose of the shingles vaccine, or to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, or to a previous dose of varicella (chickenpox) vaccine.
Discuss any health concerns with the GP or practice nurse before you have the vaccine, so that an assessment can be made as to which vaccine is suitable for you.
Chickenpox is common and highly contagious. It mostly affects children, but you can get it at any age. It usually gets better by itself after 1 to 2 weeks without needing to see a GP.
Chickenpox spots look the same on children and adults. But adults usually have a high temperature for longer and more spots than children.
A person with chickenpox is infectious from 2 days before spots appear until they have all formed scabs – usually 5 days. If you have been exposed to chickenpox it may be difficult to know whether you have been infected, as spots may not appear for up to 3 weeks later.
The chickenpox vaccine
You can get the chickenpox vaccine on the NHS if there’s a risk of harming someone with a weakened immune system if you spread the virus to them.
For example, a child can be vaccinated if 1 of their parents/guardians is having chemotherapy.
You can also pay for the vaccine at some private clinics or travel clinics. It costs between £120 and £200.
Further information and resources:
NHS UK – Shingles Vaccination
NHS UK – Shingles
NHS UK – Chickenpox
NHS Wales – Shingles Vaccine
NHS Scotland – Shingles Vaccine
NHS Northern Ireland – Shingles Vaccine