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The Shingles Vaccine by Dr Steven Yakich, 10 Oct 2016

From 1 November 2016, the Australian Government will subsidise ‘Zostavax’ (the Shingles vaccine) so it is free for Medicare card holders aged 70-79. The vaccine reduces the outbreak of shingles and shingles pain by up to 60%.

Shingles (Herpes Zoster virus) is a reactivation of dormant chicken pox virus. The original infection occurs usually in childhood. The virus never leaves the body, but retreats into the nerves where it is dormant indefinitely. The virus can reactivate when the immune system is compromised ‘at a low’, for example during another intercurrent illness, or if you are stressed or physically exhausted.

When it reactivates, shingles is usually very painful and debilitating. It presents as a unilateral itchy red rash, becoming painful and eventually blistering, and aligns with the distribution of a nerve line. It can appear anywhere on the body, including the face and one eye. It is often preceded by a flu-like illness which then prolongs, and when paired with sharp, shooting nerve pains can be quite disabling. The nerve pain can linger for months after the rash has gone.

In more serious cases it can affect an eye (untreated results in vision loss), and may cause facial weakness when the facial nerve is affected (Ramsay Hunt syndrome). In very rare cases, reactivation of the chicken pox virus can also cause a serious viral meningitis, and require hospitalisation.

Zostavax is a single vaccine recommended for people over 50 years of age (when natural immunity to the virus wanes), and is now subsidised for people aged 70-79. At Balmoral Medical Practice, our doctors administer all vaccines. To book your preventative Shingles vaccination please call us on 8209 3999.

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