Shingles Q&A

One in three people here are at risk of developing shingles, which is a rash caused by the re-activation of the same virus responsible for chicken pox.

The findings of a National Skin Centre shingles study involving 347 patients released yesterday show it can cost up to $340 per patient for each shingles episode.

We speak to Dr Pan Jiun Yit, a consultant dermatologist and the study's lead investigator, to find out more about the viral disease.

1 What is shingles?

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is caused by the re-activation of the varicella zoster virus. This virus, which is also responsible for chicken pox, lies dormant in the nerves until it is triggered again. The rash, usually on one side of the body or face, is often accompanied by pain.

"Imagine being operated on without any anaesthesia. That is the kind of painful sensation that people describe when they suffer from shingles," Dr Pan said.

2 What complications arise from getting shingles?

Shingles may lead to post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), in which the pain from shingles persists beyond three months despite the rash's disappearance.

PHN is a result of the herpes zoster virus damaging nerve fibres.

More serious complications include cornea scarring and blindness for those with shingles on the face.

3 How do I know when I will get shingles?

"If you have had chicken pox before, there is no way to know when, where or at what time you will have shingles," Dr Pan said.

While it can be triggered at any age following a chicken pox outbreak, the risk and severity of shingles increases with age, when the immunity towards the virus wanes.

4 Can I still get shingles if I am vaccinated against chicken pox?

It decreases the risk of getting shingles, but not entirely.

5 Is there a cure?

Patients can only suppress the virus through anti-viral medicine and reduce the symptoms of shingles.

Those who have had chicken pox and are above the age of 50 can opt for a one-off shingles vaccination which costs between $220 to $250.