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Column: Why you should have shingles vaccine

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Vaccinations are one of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine and today is the start of World Vaccination Week. It’s generally accepted that no other medical treatment has done more to save lives.

Thanks to vaccinations, we no longer see horrible disease like smallpox, and polio has almost been eradicated.

The NHS provides a range of free vaccinations at various points of our lives, from childhood to older age.

A relatively new introduction - since Sept 2012 - is a vaccine to help prevent shingles, which can be a painful blistering skin disease. The vaccine is offered when you reach 70 years of age. There are only a few exclusions, such as people with a low immunity who can’t be offered the jab.

You can take up the offer of the shingles vaccine – called Zostavax – until your 80th birthday. It’s not recommended beyond then, because it’s less effective as you age.

Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox. The infection produces a painful rash of fluid-filled blisters that can burst and turn into sores before healing. Seek medical advice immediately if you think you have it.

You don’t ‘catch’ shingles as such. It comes when there’s a reawakening of the chickenpox virus that’s already in your body.

It can be triggered by a number of things, like, growing old, medication, illness and stress.

The first sign of shingles can be a:

* tingling or painful feeling in an area of skin

* headache, or generally feeling unwell.

A rash will appear a few days later. Usually you get shingles on your chest and tummy, but it can appear on your face, eyes and genitals.

Some people suffer pain a long time after the initial rash has healed.

The vaccine is given as a single injection into your upper arm. Unlike the flu jab, you only need to have it once and that can be at any time of the year.

It’s highly effective at reducing your risk of getting shingles. But, if you are unlucky enough to go on to have the disease, your symptoms are likely to be milder and the illness shorter.

It’s fine to have the vaccine if you’ve had shingles. It will boost your immunity against potential further attacks.

We know from recent research there has been a noticeable drop in the number of GP appointments for shingles and related pain problems. This shows the vaccine works.

I encourage you to have the jab if you haven’t done so already. Just contact your surgery and they will check your eligibility.