Over-70s to receive shingles jabs
Published on 02 September 2013 12:30 PM
A new immunisation programme will see people in their 70s offered the shingles vaccine on the NHS.
The campaign, overseen by Public Health England, will target those aged 70 to 79. The aim is to protect older individuals across the UK who are at the greatest risk from the infection, which can be extremely painful and uncomfortable.
Shingles is a debilitating infection of nerves and the skin around them, caused by the herpes varicella-zoster virus. It usually affects a specific area on either the left or right side of the body and causes a painful rash that develops into itchy blisters.
Estimates suggest that 800,000 people will be eligible for the vaccine in the first year. Government advisers ruled against vaccinating people in their 80s as it was not cost-effective, due to the vaccine not working as well in this age group.
Shingles can reactivate later in life
'Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox,' said Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at Public Health England.
'When you recover from chickenpox, most of the virus is destroyed but some survives and lies inactive in the body in the nervous system.
'It can then reactivate later in life when your immune system is weakened by increasing age, stress or treatments that reduce your immunity.
'It is most common in people aged over 70 years, but by having the vaccine you will be reducing your chances of developing shingles by more than a third.'
Most people feel unwell for several days before the rash appears on the skin. A GP can diagnose shingles based on symptoms and the appearance of the rash, but it can take two to four weeks to heal.
Complications can include severe nerve pain, which carries on after the rash and other symptoms of shingles have gone. Around 14,000 people suffer long-term health problems each year after developing the condition.
'This new vaccine can prevent some of the most serious cases, giving people the chance to live without the discomfort and pain that shingles causes,' commented health minister Lord Howe.