All about shingles, By Dr Amy Harkness

February 10, 2023

What is shingles?

Herpes zoster, commonly known as shingles, is a viral infection which presents as an infectious, blistering and painful rash. It is caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster virus in a person who has had chicken pox (varicella). The lifetime risk of viral reactivation after chicken pox is 50%.

Shingles usually starts with pain or itch and general malaise, followed by the painful, blistered rash on one side of the face or body, lasting around 10 to 15 days. Approximately 10% of shingles infections may be complicated by long-lasting pain and tingling to the area, known as post herpetic neuralgia. More severe disease and complications may occur in elderly and immunocompromised patients.

shingles rash

How is it treated?

It is important to see your GP as soon as possible if you think you may have shingles. It can be treated with prescription oral antiviral medication within 72 hours of the rash onset. This medication does not cure the disease but may reduce its severity and the risk of complications.

Who is most at risk?

Herpes zoster can occur at any age, but the risk increases with age. Those at greatest risk of shingles and its complications are adults 50 years and over (particularly 70 plus) and immunocompromised people over 18. Thus, shingles immunisation is recommended for these groups, tailored to individual health needs.

What vaccines are available?

From 1 November 2023, a 2-dose course of Shingrix® is available for free if you are:

  • 65 years or older
  • First Nations Australian aged 50+
  • 18+ and immunocompromised.

Note: Shingrix can also be purchased as a privately funded vaccine for any adults 50 years and over.

Can I still be immunised if I’ve already had shingles?

Yes! People who’ve had shingles can be immunised at the recommended age, at least 12 months after their confirmed case.