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Shingles

Shingles is a viral infection that often causes a tingling feeling on your skin as well as the general feeling of being unwell, followed by a rash that usually forms on one side of your body. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. You might be eligible for a free shingles vaccine on the NHS. 


What is shingles?

Shingles (sometimes referred to as 'herpes zoster') is a viral infection that’s caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.

You cannot catch shingles from another person, but you can catch chicken pox from someone with shingles. So if you’ve been diagnosed with shingles, you should avoid people who haven’t had chickenpox before, particularly those who are more vulnerable.

With shingles, the virus can stay in your body and become active years later. The chances of this happening are greater if your immune system has been lowered because of stress, illness or treatments.


What are the symptoms of shingles?

The main symptoms of shingles include:

  • a tingling feeling on your skin
  • a headache and generally feeling unwell
  • a rash (that usually forms on one side of your body).

The tingling feeling on your skin and feeling unwell is usually the first sign that you might have shingles. There might be a burning sensation around the affected area of skin, or there might be a constant or dull pain. The affected area may also feel tender.

The rash that develops tends to follow these initial symptoms and is usually found on your chest or tummy (often on one side of your body). It can develop into itchy blisters which can continue to appear for up to a week. Depending on your skin colour, it might be that this rash isn't obviously visible.


What should I do if I get shingles?

If you think you might have shingles, contact 111 or a healthcare professional. They’ll be able to offer advice and may be able to prescribe medication to help manage your symptoms and speed up your recovery. These are best taken as soon as possible after symptoms start.

To manage your symptoms yourself you can do the following:

  • take painkillers to manage any pain
  • keep your rash clean and dry
  • wear loose-fitting clothes, particularly where your rash is, to avoid irritation
  • use a cool damp cloth on the affected areas to soothe and keep the area clean
  • don’t put dressings or plasters on your rash
  • don’t use antibiotic cream on your rash.

How can I avoid getting shingles?

It's not always possible to avoid or prevent shingles but a shingles vaccine may reduce the impact of symptoms if you do get infected.


Who can get a free NHS shingles vaccine?

The eligibility criteria changed on 1 September 2023. You’ll be eligible for a free shingles vaccine once you turn 65 following this date and will remain eligible until you turn 80. However, if you turned 65 before this date, you'll have to wait until you turn 70 to be eligible for the vaccine.

If you have a severely weakened immune system, you’re eligible from the age of 50 onwards, with no upper age limit.

If you're aged between 70 and 79 and haven't been offered the shingles vaccine yet, speak to a healthcare professional about arranging your vaccination soon. 


When should I have the shingles jab?

The shingles vaccine is available all year round. You should be automatically invited to have your vaccination when you turn the relevant eligible age.

The shingles vaccine will most likely be delivered in 2 doses that you can have between 6 and 12 months apart. If you have a severely weakened immune system, then you’ll likely have the 2 doses closer together – between 8 weeks and 6 months apart.


Where can I get my shingles jab?

You can get your shingles vaccine at your local GP practice. 

You should be contacted about getting your shingles vaccine but if you haven't heard and you think you're eligible then you should get in touch with your GP practice. 

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Last updated: Aug 29 2023

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