Dr Maureen McCartney, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said: “Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. After you recover from chicken pox, some of the virus remains inactive in the body and nervous system. It can then reactivate later in life when your immune system is weakened. About a quarter of adults will get shingles at some point in their life.
“For most people shingles can be a mild infection with good recovery. But it can be very painful and uncomfortable and tends to affect people more commonly as they get older. The older people are, the worse it can be, with some people left with pain lasting for years after the initial rash has healed.
“It is estimated that the vaccination programme will prevent nearly 40% of the hundreds of cases seen every year in Northern Ireland in people over 70 and reduce the severity of the symptoms for those who do develop the condition.”
Who gets the vaccine
Eligibility for the vaccine is determined by a person’s age on 1 September. The vaccine will be offered routinely to people aged 70 years on the 1 September. (This year that will be those born between 2 September 1942 and 1 September 1943, inclusive) and as part of a catch-up programme those aged 79 years on the 1 September 2013 (i.e born between 2 September 1933 and 1 September 1934, inclusive).
The shingles vaccine is given as a single injection in the upper arm and unlike the flu vaccine, you only need to have it once.
Dr McCartney continued: “Side effects are usually quite mild and don’t last very long. The most common side effects include headache, and or pain and swelling, at the site of the injection. The shingles vaccine has been used extensively in several countries including America and Canada. We can therefore be very confident in knowing that it is a safe and effective vaccine.
“If you are eligible you will receive the vaccination at your local GP surgery over the next few months.”
People who have lowered immunity must not receive the shingles vaccine, such as anyone who is on chemotherapy or has leukaemia or lymphoma. Other medicines can also lower immunity, for example, high doses of oral steroids and some drugs used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, polymyositis, sarcoidosis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Check with your GP if you are on any treatment especially if it is prescribed to you at a hospital.
People under 70 years of age will get the vaccine in the year following their seventieth birthday. People aged 80 and over will not get the shingles vaccination because the vaccine effectiveness diminishes with age and is not recommended for people aged 80 years or older.
It is estimated that in Northern Ireland around 21,000 people will be eligible for the vaccine in the first year.
For further information see www.publichealth.hscni.net/publications/shingles-leaflet-aged-70-or-79
The Public Health Agency (PHA) is launching a new routine shingles vaccination programme, available from 1 October, for all people aged 70 and a catch-up programme for people aged 79 years old to help protect against the common and painful skin disease.
Notes to the editor
- All people aged 70 on 1 September 2013 are eligible (i.e. all those born between 2 September 1942 and 1 September 1943, inclusive).
- People aged 79 on 1 September 2013 will also be offered the vaccine in a catch-up programme (i.e. all those born between 2 September 1933 and 1 September 1934, inclusive).
- A catch-up programme for those aged 71 to 79 will also be introduced over the next few years beginning this October with all 79 year olds.
- If someone was aged 70 (or 79) years on 1 September but by the time they attend for vaccination they have turned 71 (or 80) years they should still be offered the vaccine – eligibility is determined by their age on 1 September 2013.
- A clinical study has shown that in adults aged 70 years and older the vaccine reduced the incidence of shingles by 38%. (Oxman et al. 2005). In those vaccinated that developed shingles, the vaccine significantly reduced the seriousness of illness by 55% in people aged 70 years and over.
- The shingles vaccine, Zostavax®, will mainly be offered to eligible individuals at the same time as they are called to receive their annual seasonal flu vaccination. Unlike the seasonal flu vaccine it does not have to be given every year. The vaccine is given as a single dose by an injection in the upper arm. The annual routine programme will be aimed at all those aged 70. As more of the vaccine becomes available a catch-up programme will be implemented for all those aged 71 to 79 over the next few years beginning this October with those aged 79.
- Shingles Symptoms – Shingles can occur at any age, with the highest incidence seen in older people. The incidence of shingles increases with age and around one in four adults will experience shingles in their lifetime (Miller et al., 1993). Increasing incidence with age is thought to be associated with the poorer response of the immune system with age and also with waning immunity.
- The first signs of shingles begin most commonly with abnormal skin sensations and pain in the affected area of skin, headache, photophobia, malaise, and less commonly fever. Within days or weeks, a rash of fluid filled blisters appears in the affected area of skin and those adjacent to it. Fluid filled blisters typically appear on only one side of the body. The affected area may be intensely painful with associated tingling, pricking, or numbness of the skin, and intense itching is common.
- Persistent pain can develop and this is seen more frequently in older people, and is termed Post Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN). On average, this lasts from three to six months, although it may continue for years. Pain levels experienced range from mild to excruciating, and may be constant, intermittent or triggered by stimulus of the affected area. Shingles can also affect the eye and cause serious eye problems.
- Shingles and chicken pox are both caused by the varicella zoster virus.