What is shingles?
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infectious skin disease characterised by painful blisters on one side of the body. The blisters form a sort of belt over the body, hence the name. Shingles often affects one arm or leg or one half of the face, back or chest.
The disease progresses in stages. At first, an unpleasant sensation develops at the spot where the blisters will later appear. This can be pain, but also tingling, itching or a burning sensation. A few days later, small, red blisters appear. These blisters are filled with fluid and can cause a lot of pain and itching. After about seven to 10 days, the blisters dry into scabs, but new blisters may appear after a week since the appearance of the first blisters. In some cases, no blisters appear at all and there is only itching and pain. Shingles on the face can additionally lead to impaired vision.
After the blisters disappear, (severe) pain in the affected area may persist for some time. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia, or nerve pain after shingles. The nerve pain that can be caused by shingles is due to the inflammation of sensory nerves.
How do you get shingles?
The cause of shingles is the chickenpox virus. Once a person has had chickenpox, the virus remains in an inactive form in the body. Eventually, however, this virus can become active again. This usually happens when someone temporarily suffers from reduced immunity. Reduced immunity can have several causes, including:
- Sleep deprivation;
- Prolonged stress;
- An unhealthy diet;
- Medication, including chemotherapy and prednisone;
- Congenital immune disorders;
- Infectious immune disorders, including AIDS;
- Autoimmune disorders.
Reduced immunity is not the only factor involved in the development of shingles. When a person is over 60 years old, the risk of contracting shingles increases and the symptoms are generally worse. A person who has had shingles in the past has an increased risk of getting it again.
An adult who has never had chickenpox will first get chickenpox when infected with the chickenpox virus and cannot get shingles right away. Shingles cannot be contracted directly when a person has not had chickenpox first. After this, the virus remains inactive in the body, as in people who have had chickenpox as a child. From then on, it is possible to get shingles in the future.
What can you do to prevent shingles?
There is a vaccine available that helps prevent shingles and nerve pain after shingles. This vaccine, called Shingrix, is specially designed for people who have had chickenpox before.
The Shingrix vaccination is used for:
• Adults aged 50 and above;
• Adults aged 18 years and over at higher risk of developing shingles.
The vaccine is intended for people aged 18 and above.
How does the shingles vaccine work?
The vaccine contains proteins from the surface of the virus that causes shingles. The vaccine also contains a number of substances that enhance the immune system’s response to the virus.
Because the body is able to produce antibodies against the virus faster after vaccination, the risk of developing shingles is significantly reduced. Clinical studies have shown Shingrix to be 90% effective in preventing shingles in people over 50 years old The vaccine can also prevent the development of nerve pain. In many countries, Shingrix is widely given to elderly people aged sixty and above.
What protection does the shingles vaccination offer?
The shingles vaccination consists of two doses. The second dose is given within two to six months of the first dose. A booster vaccination is usually not necessary, but may be given if desired or when necessary.
How much will a shingles vaccination cost?
If you meet some (strict) conditions, a shingles vaccination (Shingrix) may be reimbursed by your (Dutch) basic health insurance. If not, the vaccination is at your own expense. For more information, please visit our rates page.