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03 September 2013 08:58
People aged between 70 and 79 are to be offered the shingles vaccine
The shingles vaccine is being offered by the NHS to all people in their seventies, officials have confirmed.
People aged between 70 and 79 are being targeted in the programme, which is being overseen by Public Health England. It aims to offer protection for older people across the UK who are thought to be at greatest risk of the infection. It is thought up to 800,000 people will be eligible for the vaccine in its first year.
People in their 80s are not being offered the vaccine after Government advisers concluded it works less well in the age group, meaning it would not have been cost-effective.
The herpes varicella-zoster virus, which can also cause chicken pox, brings on shingles. A painful rash which progresses into itchy blisters usually appears on a specific area on the left or right side of the body. Most shingles sufferers will feel unwell for several days before the onset of the rash, which can take between two and four weeks to clear up.
Severe nerve pain can affect sufferers after the other symptoms have disappeared, underlining the importance of
senior travel insurance in the event of a shingles attack before a holiday.
Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at Public Health England, said: "Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. When you recover from chickenpox, most of the virus is destroyed but some survives and lies inactive in the body in the nervous system. It can then reactivate later in life when your immune system is weakened by increasing age, stress or treatments that reduce your immunity.
"It is most common in people aged over 70 years, but by having the vaccine you will be reducing your chances of developing shingles by more than a third."
Health Minister Lord Howe branded the disease as potentially "nasty" for older people, saying it can lead to long-term health problems for around 14,000 people each year.
He went on: "This new vaccine can prevent some of the most serious cases, giving people the chance to live without the discomfort and pain that shingles causes."
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