It has recently been announced that the shingles vaccine Zostavax has been placed on the National Immunization Program for 70-79 year olds as of November 2016.
Shingles is a common disease in the elderly and those with cancer or compromised immune systems, as we age our cellular immunity decreases, which means that we are unable to or cannot suppress as well the virus.
Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus or chickenpox, which people may have had decades earlier and lies dormant under skin nerve roots. It is estimated that 95% of Australian adults have been infected with chicken pox in their life( both knowingly and unknowingly) which puts a large percentage of the population at risk of developing shingles.
Shingles is incredibly painful and there are a few serious complications associated with it.
Shingles will often present as a painful blistering rash, usually on one side of your body and usually along a band of skin that is supplied by a single nerve. The problem is that often the rash will appear after a patient has had pain in the area for a few days, this often leads to misdiagnosis and sometimes, means that patients might not be able to take antiviral drugs, which need to be taken within the first 3 days to lower the chances of developing Postherpetic Nurolgia(PHN), which is terrible pain, headaches and nerve pain that lasts 30 days but in some cases can last months of years, disrupting sleep, eating and daily activities as well as increasing the risk of depression. While early antiviral drugs will lower the chances of PHN developing it can still occur and if it does occur it is difficult to treat and relieve the pain.
Another side effect of shingles is called herpes zoster Opthalmicus, which affects the skin around the eye and can threaten a person’s vision.
The reason that the Shingles vaccine is being offered to the 70-79 age group is that advancing age is one of the greatest risk factors for developing shingles, as well as the associated complications.
The risk of developing complications, particularly PHN is 1 in 10 between the ages of 50 and 59 and increases to 1 in 5 when shingles patients are in their 70’s .
This is important, as this was part of what the government took into consideration when deciding upon the age group that would receive the free vaccine.
The vaccine is only available to people over 50 and you fall into the 50-69 age group as well as the over 80 age group you are also able to receive the vaccine but you have to pay for the vaccine.
The reason for this is that when tests were conducted to see how effective the vaccine was, it as revealed that while the vaccine was effective in both the age group in their 60’s and 70’s, what needed to be taken into consideration was that over time the protection would wear off, so this system was deemed to be of most benefit.
There are some side effects of the vaccine as it is a live reduced form of the varicella-zoster virus, and is about 14 times stronger than the chickenpox vaccine, this is because older adults t-cells will need a stronger dose for their t cells to work. Because this is a weak form of the virus it is not suitable for people with cancer or compromised immune systems, it may also be important to discuss with your doctor, if this will work for you, especially if you have had shingles previously.
Usually about half of the recipients will complain of mild and short lived, pain, swelling and redness a the injection site.
If you are interested in this vaccine, you should discuss this with your doctor, as this article is only designed to make you aware of the vaccine and should not be taken as medical advice.