By Michelle Roberts Health editor, BBC News online
The rash can be extremely painful and blister
People in their 70s in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be offered a vaccine against shingles from this September.
Experts have been recommending routine immunisation for some years.
The government-led programme will target 70, 78 and 79-year-olds in the first instance and should prevent tens of thousands of shingles cases a year.
Elderly people are at greatest risk and vaccination should prevent nearly half of cases in the over 70s.
The Welsh government is debating introducing a similar programme
It is estimated that, in England alone, around 800,000 people will be eligible for the vaccine in the first year.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR THE VACCINE?
- From September 2013, year one of the catch-up campaign, people aged 70 and 79 in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland
- In years two, three, four and five onwards more of the 70-79 age group will be offered the vaccine until, ultimately, only people aged 70 need to be targeted
Targeting of people aged 70-79 will be staggered in the next few years that follow until the age group is fully covered.
Thereafter, the jab should only need to be offered to people as they reach their 70th birthday.
Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox, herpes varicella zoster.
The illness affects the nerves and the skin causing a painful rash.
In severe cases it can cause complications such as hearing loss or brain swelling.
Shingles happens when an old chickenpox infection is reactivated.
The virus can remain inactive in the nervous system for decades, with the body’s immune system keeping it in check, but later in life it can flare up again and emerge this time as shingles.
If you have not had chickenpox before, you can catch it from someone with shingles, but it is not possible to catch shingles itself from someone with the condition.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “Shingles can be a nasty disease for older people and can lead to long-term health problems for around 14,000 people each year.
“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.”