What is shingles?
Shingles (herpes zoster) is a viral disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which initially causes chickenpox. After a chickenpox infection, the virus remains inactive in the body and can later be reactivated as shingles by various triggers. More than 95 percent of people over the age of 60 carry the varicella-zoster virus, the causative agent of shingles, after a previous infection with chickenpox – usually in childhood. In Germany alone, around 400,000 cases are registered every year. In addition to the typical skin rashes with blisters, those affected often suffer from very severe nerve pain. Up to 30 percent of those affected develop post-herpetic neuralgia, in which the pain can last for weeks, months or a lifetime.(2) Typical symptoms of post-herpetic neuralgia are persistent burning pain , hypersensitivity to sensitive stimuli and itching.(3) In general, the degree of pain associated with herpes zoster-related pain is perceived as very strong – significantly higher than, for example, pain conditions associated with rheumatoid arthritis.(4)
The risk of developing the disease increases with age
The main risk factor for a disease is age, because the body’s own defenses decrease significantly from the age of 50. The declining immune system can reactivate the dormant viruses in the body and trigger shingles. Other possible triggers are illness and stress. The risk of possible complications also increases with age. In addition to long-lasting nerve pain, hearing or vision loss can also occur, and shingles also increases the risk of stroke and heart attack for about 6 months.
Vaccination can protect
The Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) recommends a preventive vaccination against shingles for all people over the age of 60. (5) For people with underlying diseases such. As diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma or COPD, vaccination is recommended from the age of 50 as a so-called indication vaccination. The health insurance companies cover the costs for this.
Protect yourself against shingles – let your doctor advise you on your preventive care options. More information at impfen.de/guertelrose
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(1) Wutzler et al. 2001; Vaccine 20:121-124.
(2) Harpaz R et al. MMWR Recomm Rep 2008; 57:1-40
(3) Kost RG, Straus SE. N Engl J Med 1996;335:32-42
(4) Katz J et al Surg Clin North Am1999; 79:231-252
(5) RKI: EpiBul 18/2020.