What is Shingles?

Shingles is a common condition, with one in three people developing it in their lifetime. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Shingles causes a rash, often acutely painful, and generally lasts between two to four weeks. However, up to thirty percent of people suffer ongoing nerve pain for more than 3 months. If shingles occurs close to the eye, it can cause inflammatory eye conditions that may result in serious vision problems.

What are the symptoms?

Recognising shingles, particularly the first episode, can be difficult.

Pain is usually the first sign of shingles and you may experience this for two to three days before any other symptoms appear. It is often described as a burning, tingling, stabbing or shooting pain. A few days later a red rash with fluid-filled blisters may appear.

The rash can occur anywhere on the body and is generally in a stripe on one side of the body or face. You may also experience fever, headache, fatigue, or light sensitivity.

If you develop shingle-like symptoms, it is important to see your GP asap.

Antiviral medication that can reduce the severity and duration of shingles is available. However, it is only effective during the first 48-72 hours of the infection while the virus is replicating rapidly. If your eye might be affected, the doctor may refer you to an ophthalmologist for a specialist eye assessment.

How do I protect myself?

Even the healthiest lifestyle won’t protect you from developing shingles. If you’ve had chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus remains in the nerve roots where they come out of your spinal cord. The immune system keeps the virus dormant, but the virus can activate and cause shingles.

Age increases your chances of experiencing shingles. If you are aged over 50, vaccination is available and the best way to prevent shingles and its complications.

In New Zealand, the more effective and long-lasting shingles vaccine, Shingrix has recently replaced the discontinued Zostavax vaccine. Shingrix has been shown to be over 90% effective at preventing shingles across all age groups 50 years and older.

In New Zealand, Shingrix is available to people over 50 years. It is funded while you are 65 years of age. It is not funded for people aged 50-54 or over 66.

The vaccine costs approximately $350 per dose and requires two doses, 2-6 months after the first. You can have the Shingrix vaccine even if you have had Zostavax. Zostavax provided only modest protection for a short number of years.

To book your shingles vaccination, email Epsom Medical Centre. Include your name, date of birth, and contact details. Our team will be in touch to arrange an appointment.

Further Resources

For more information about Shingles and the Shingles Vaccination, we recommend the following:

Health Navigator NZ – Shingles Information

Immunisation Advisory Centre – Information about the vaccine

Shingrix – for information about the vaccine directly from the manufacturer

General Information

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