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Shingles causes a painful rash and can lead to severe, long-term nerve pain. As your immune system weakens with age, you are at higher risk of developing shingles.

Did you know?

  • Shingles is the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus which is the same virus that causes chickenpox.
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What is it?

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a disease caused by the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person gets chickenpox (usually in childhood) and recovers, the virus can remain ‘hidden’ in your body for many years without causing disease and become active again later in life resulting in shingles.It mainly occurs in those with a weakened immune system or older adults whose immunity to the virus may have naturally decreased over time.

Shingles can cause a painful, blistering rash; and can lead to serious complications such as severe, long-lasting nerve pain.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom of shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash. The rash can appear on any part of the body, including the face (usually on one side), and often has a characteristic ‘belt-like’ pattern.

Other symptoms, which can occur for several days before the rash appears, may include:

  • tingling, burning sensation where the rash will appear
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • discomfort when looking at bright lights.

Once the rash appears, it is typically painful and blistering, and can last between 10 to 15 days.

For some people, the pain continues even after the rash disappears. If pain lasts for more than 3 months, it is called post-herpetic neuralgia (long-term nerve pain due to damage caused by the virus).

Depending on where the rash appears, other complications may include:

  • serious eye problems, including blindness
  • pneumonia
  • hearing problems
  • nerve problems
  • swelling of the brain
  • scarring
  • secondary bacterial skin infection

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following shingles. Please speak to a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about shingles.

How is it spread?

Shingles is the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus which has been lying hidden in your own body after you had chickenpox, which means it occurs from inside your own body. If you haven’t had chickenpox before, you can’t get shingles. However, if you had very mild chickenpox, you may not even remember ever having it- you can still develop shingles. You can get chickenpox by coming into contact with the fluid from shingles blisters, whether through direct contact with the lesions or by touching dressings, soiled clothes and so on.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who has had chickenpox, even very mild cases, is at risk of developing shingles later in life. Your risk of shingles increases as you get older (affects half of people who live to 80 years); and those with weakened immunity are also at risk of more severe complications.

Other people may also be at risk of shingles. Please speak to a healthcare professional regarding your individual circumstances.

Prevention and Treatment options

  • Adults

    Shingles is the reactivation of the chickenpox virus that remains in your body after you have had chickenpox. If you haven't had chickenpox, ways to help reduce the risk of infection and spread include: avoiding contact with those infected and practicing good hygiene such as washing your hands and covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with a tissue or into your upper sleeve or elbow.

    The risk of shingles can be reduced through immunisation.

    Shingles may be treated with antiviral medicines as long as they are given within three days of the rash appearing. Antiviral medicines can help to shorten a shingles attack and ease pain. If the rash becomes infected, antibiotics may be given.  For those who develop nerve pain, medicines to relieve the pain may also be given.

    Please speak to a healthcare professional for more information about shingles prevention and treatment options.

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References

  1. Shingles (herpes zoster) | Department of Health. https://beta.health.gov.au/health-topics/shingles-herpes-zoster (accessed October 2020)

PM-AU-AVX-WCNT-190048 Date of GSK Approval: January 2021