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Shingles is an infection of a nerve, and the band of skin supplied by the affected nerve. It can cause pain, and an itchy rash, which remains localised, and normally takes from 2 to 4 weeks to clear up.
If you have had chickenpox as a child, you probably know that the Varicella-Zoster virus, also referred to as Herpes-Zoster, remains in your body, near the spinal cord, where the virus is kept inactive by your immune system. In later years, usually around the age of 50 or thereafter, a period of elevated stress or illness may reactivate the virus, or it may reactivate for no apparent reason, and the symptoms of Shingles appear.
The first symptom of Shingles is pain, localised to one area on one side of the body only. Frequently the affected area is on the chest or abdomen, and also the upper part of the face. The skin will become tender and a sensation of dull, burning pain or sharp, stabbing pain will last for roughly 2 – 3 days before the rash appears.
The accompanying rash commonly begins as blotchy red bumps which later develop into itchy blisters that resemble Chickenpox, but remains localised to the area of skin which is infected. Other early symptoms can include:
- Headache & high fever
- Burning, tingling, itching, or numbness of the skin
- A general feeling of being unwell
Note: Not everyone experiences the above symptoms, and a severe headache is uncommon. In about 20% of Shingles cases, the infection lasts longer than 2-3 weeks, and goes on to develop into nerve pain called Postherpetic Neuralgia.
Some cases of Shingles can affect the eye, and are called Opthalmic Shingles which affect only one eye at a time, and are associated with the nerve that controls movement and sensation in your face. Symptoms are:
- A rash over your forehead, nose, and around your eye
- Conjunctivitis, which causes inflammation and watering of the eye
- Vision problems
Firstly, contact your GP should you suspect you have been in contact with anyone who might have Chickenpox or Shingles, and even more urgently if you are pregnant and have never had Chickenpox before.
Next, try to avoid close contact with someone who has Shingles, as the blisters on the skin contain the virus, and if you are not immune through having had Chickenpox, you could be at risk. Also avoid touching any clothing, bed linens or towels used by an infected person with open blisters.
If your immune system is compromised, through illness, such as HIV, or if you have recently had a bone marrow or organ transplant, or are receiving Chemotherapy treatments, you are at risk for contracting Shingles.
If you are 60-70 years of age, or older, whether or not you have had Chickenpox, the vaccine for Herpes-Zoster can be more than 50% effective in helping to keep the virus from reactivating. At home, or prior to travel, it’s a good idea to have the vaccine, no matter what time of year. The Shingles vaccine can protect you from getting Shingles, or from suffering very severe symptoms in case you do get it.
Vaccine name – Shingrix or Zostavax
Property – Shingrix is an inactivated vaccine and zostavax is a live vaccine. Both are given either intramuscularly or subcutaneously into your deltoid.
Course –Shingrix two doses a minimum of 2 months apart. Zostavax single dose.
Booster – None.
Side effects – Mild pain, redness or swelling at the site of the injection. People may also experience mild fever, tiredness and general aches and pains.
Special Certificate requirement – None
Special instructions –Zostavax is licensed for individuals over 50 years old and should not be given to pregnant or immunocompromised individuals
The vaccine is now known to protect against Shingles for no less than five years. There is no guarantee, but if in any case the virus does activate again, any symptoms would be very mild and fade without treatment.
At one of our Travel Clinics, we have this vaccine in stock. Should you have any questions regarding the vaccine, or about this virus in general, you are welcome to phone or contact us online for a consultation which will put you at ease.
Our London Travel Clinics
All 5 of our centrally located travel clinics are convenient for people living and working in London. Liverpool Street, London Bridge, High St Kensington, Battersea and Mayfair. We are open early morning, lunchtime, evening and weekends and provide all of the vaccinations and medications that you need.