Free shingles vaccine for septuagenarians

Monday 24 October 2016

Older South Australians are encouraged to visit their GP to be vaccinated for shingles free of charge following changes to the National Immunisation Program.

Director of SA Health’s Communicable Disease Control Branch Dr Ann Koehler said she anticipates seeing a drop in the number of older South Australians affected by shingles.

“More than 600 South Australians aged over 70 contracted shingles last year,” Dr Koehler said.

“I hope to see that rate decrease in coming years as older people benefit from the free vaccination.

“Previously, South Australians who wanted to protect themselves from shingles had to pay $200 per vaccine dose.

“With the addition of the shingles vaccine to the National Immunisation Program, people aged 70 to 79 can receive the vaccination for free from their GP from 1 November.”

Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It usually occurs several decades following an initial chickenpox infection.

Dr Koehler said in older people and those with weakened immune systems, the reactivation of the virus results in shingles which can have severe effects.

“A blistering rash with severe pain can occur on the skin and wraps around the body,” Dr Koehler said.

“In older people, shingles is more likely to cause long-term pain which can last for many weeks.”

Symptoms of shingles come in stages, starting with a headache or light sensitivity and flu-like feelings without any fever. A blistering rash and severe pain will occur, and may be followed by persistent pain in the area which can last for an extended period of time.

Dr Koehler said in recent years, people aged over 70 have made up almost one third of shingles cases in South Australia.

“This year, almost 28 per cent of shingles cases in SA have affected people aged over 70,” Dr Koehler said.

“Since the vaccination is free from 1 November 2016 for those aged 70 to 79, I strongly encourage that age group to ask their GP about getting vaccinated against this painful condition.”

There have been 465 cases of shingles in South Australians aged over 70 this year, compared to 659 cases in the same age group for the entire 2015.

For more information, see: Chickenpox and shingles - including symptoms, treatment and prevention.

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