What is Shingles?

Shingles is a severely painful skin rash that can only occur in those that have previously had chickenpox. The chickenpox virus stays asleep in the body around the spine until something weakens your immune system such as steroids / chemotherapy / advancing age / chronic stress etc.

Shingles (also called herpes zoster) often causes painful blisters. A shingles rash only appears on one side of the face/body and usually heals within 2 to 4 weeks. Other symptoms can include fever, headache, chills, and an upset stomach. Very rarely, a shingles infection can lead to serious complications.

Unfortunately for about 1 in 5 people, severe pain and discomfort can still be felt long after the rash has cleared up. This long-lasting pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia.

Since 2006 in the UK, we have been giving the Zostavax vaccination to help prevent shingles. This is a live, weakened form of the chickenpox virus (and is simply 14 times the dose of the chickenpox vaccine for children!).

Effectiveness of Zostavax

  • against shingles rash is about 51%;
  • against post-herpetic neuralgia is about 67%, dropping to 30% 4 years after vaccination

A year ago, another shingles vaccine was licensed and recommended in the US called Shingrix. This is very different to Zostavax – instead of being a whole weakened form of the virus, it is just one protein (glycoprotein E) that sits on the surface of the virus and two adjuvants which help to generate a strong and sustained immune response. In other terms, this is a non-live, subunit vaccine.


Effectiveness of Shingrix

  • against shingles rash is in the mid- to high 90%;
  • against post-herpetic neuralgia is in the high 80% to low-mid 90% range only mildly dropping to 85% 4 years after vaccination

In March 2018 Shingrix was approved in Europe and we at ROC are now able to offer it to our private patients as of this November, as is has not yet replaced Zostavax on the NHS schedule.

It can be given from 50 years of age and it is a two-dose vaccine given at least 2 months apart. Due to its better protection rates against shingles than Zostavax it is now the preferred vaccine in the UK. Even if you have already had Zostavax, it is still recommended that you receive two doses of the Shingrix vaccine.

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