Shingles is the condition when someone who has had chickenpox gets a similar rash on one side of the person’s body. It is due to the Varicella Zoster virus which travels down a nerve and presents with small vesicles/blisters along the skin area the nerve supplies.

Shingles most commonly occurs in people older than 60 but can occur in younger people and in some occasions happens as a response to the body’s immune system being stressed. Some reports say the life-time risk is 1-in-5 people to get shingles. Usually a person has only one attack but some can have up to three separate attacks.

Before the blistering rash appears on the skin a person may experience pain, itch or tingles in the site 1-to-5 days prior. Fever, headache and chills are common other symptoms. Those people in contact with someone with shingles who have NOT had chickenpox could develop chickenpox from exposure to shingles. Shingles is slightly less contagious than chickenpox.

Ideally if someone has the beginnings of shingles an antiviral medication called Acyclovir on a newly funded medication Valaciclovir can be used. The earlier this is started the better. Complications of shingles include post-herpetic neuralgia (pain) which can be managed with pain-relieving medications in most instances.

There is a vaccine called Zostavax which is available for adults aged over 50 to prevent shingles and reduce the risk of postherpetic neuralgia. This vaccine has been used overseas since 2006. There is a charge for this vaccine, talk to your doctor to see if it is suitable for you.