Almost one million people are now eligible for the shingles vaccine following the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the NHS has revealed.
The health service said the update, alongside decreasing the HPV jab doses offered to children from two doses to one, will “make it easier for people to get protected, especially those who are more vulnerable”.
People who turn 65 or 70 from September 1, 2023 are eligible and the programme will continue for five years until they have all been offered the jab. Over-50s with weakened immune systems are also eligible.
Earlier this year, shingles made the headlines when This Morning co-host Holly Willoughby was missing from the show after being diagnosed with the condition.
Here is a comprehensive look at shingles, including its causes, symptoms and treatment.
What is shingles?
Shingles is an infection that produces a painful rash on the body and is caused by the chickenpox virus, the NHS says. It is common to get a shingles rash on the chest or abdomen. However, the NHS says it can appear anywhere on the body, including the face, eyes and genitals.
Around 194,000 people in England and Wales get shingles every year, the Shingles Support Society (SSS) website says.
The charity says: “We call it chickenpox when we first catch it. The virus hides away in the body and can appear again at any age. When this happens, we call it shingles. This is more likely to occur as we get older.”
According to the NHS, it is estimated that one in five people will develop shingles in their lifetime, which can lead to blindness, nerve pain, hearing loss and even death.
What causes shingles?
The virus flees to a neural ganglion (junction box) in the nerves next to the spine as soon as you recover from chickenpox. For the rest of your life, it remains there in a dormant state.
One day, something triggers the virus to reactivate it, possibly when you are fatigued or ill, though no one is really sure why, and it manifests as shingles.
What are the symptoms of shingles?
The SSS says red patches are usually the first sign of the rash appearing. However, there may also be itching, tingling or burning under the skin, pain around the area and fluid-filled blisters that burst and turn into sores before they dry out.
The virus hides away in the body and can appear again at any age. When this happens, we call it shingles
Shingles Support Society
How is shingles treated?
People are urged to call 111 or visit the doctor as soon as they suspect shingles as they might need medication.
For treating shingles at home, the NHS website advises taking paracetamol, keeping the rash clean and dry, wearing loose-fitting clothes and using a cool compress a few times a day. It warns against letting dressings or plasters stick to the rash or using antibiotic cream.
The NHS also urges those infected to stay away from certain groups of people to avoid spreading chickenpox. These include pregnant women who have not had chickenpox, people with a weakened immune system and babies who are less than one month old.
A vaccination is available on the NHS for people in their 70s.
The rash can take up to five weeks to heal.
Who is eligible for the shingles vaccine?
In the UK, as of Friday, 1 September, the vaccine programme is being offered to:
healthy people aged 70 to 79 years who have not yet been vaccinated;
people aged 50 years and over with a severely weakened immune system;
healthy people aged 60 to 70 years will become eligible for the vaccine over the next five years, when they turn 65 or 70 years.
At the moment, it is not being offered to younger people.