SHINGLES is a painful condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox.
It can occur at any age, but it usually affects older adults. About one in three people will develop shingles at some stage during their lifetime.
Now one of Australia's leading advocacy groups for older people, National Seniors, is ramping up a campaign to raise awareness of the condition and the vaccine to prevent it.
People aged over 70 are often most at risk of contracting the painful, blistering rash which develops into itchy blisters, usually on one side of the body, either on the face, chest, back, abdomen or pelvis, but can affect other parts of the body. They can take several weeks to settle.
A free vaccine is available for people aged 70, with a five?year catch-up program for those aged 71-79 until October 31, 2021. The vaccine normally costs about $250.
National Seniors research has shown 90 per cent of people aged over 50 would have the vaccine if it was government-funded.
"Shingles often has a devastating impact on older Australians, particularly those over the age of 70, but a $250 bill too often puts it out of reach of many older people, particularly those on low and fixed incomes," said interim chief executive John McCallum.
The organisation has sent a letter and information kit to all federal members of parliament urging them to spread the word among doctors, health professionals and older people in their electorates about the availability of a vaccine.
"We know that seniors are among the groups most at risk and that shingles can have a physical and emotional impact on them, with long-term complications," Professor McCallum said.
"Post herpetic neuralgia, or nerve pain, is one complication of shingles that can last months or even years."
Shingles may also increase the risk of stroke in the six months after onset of the rash. Half of those who have experienced shingles said it affected their social life and daily household chores, while a third said it affected their ability to work.
Almost everyone has had chickenpox by the time they turn 40 (unless they have been previously vaccinated against it).
If you have had chickenpox in the past, the virus stays in the nerve cells near your spine but will not be active. Shingles occurs when the virus becomes active again.
Usually, people only get shingles once in their lives. But those with weakened immune systems might get repeated infections.
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