Is shingles contagious? Symptoms risk rises with age and being near chickenpox sufferers

Shingles affects an estimated one in four people at some point in their lives, however getting the shingles vaccine has been found to dramatically cut cases. 

Also known as herpes zoster, it is an infection of a nerve and the skin around it, according to the NHS.

It is caused by the same virus as chickenpox, and triggers nasty, painful symptoms such as a rash and fever.

However, new research has shown that cases of the condition in England have fallen by a third since more people were offered a free shinglers vaccine.

The report, published in the Lancet Journal of Public Health, revealed that cases have been reduced by 35 per cent after the vaccine was given to 70 year olds.

Older people who develop shingles are more at risk of complications, such as developing severe nerve pain, heart disease and even death.

Of the 50,000 cases that occur in people aged 70 or over each year, there are 50 people who die.

Since the programme began in 2013, there have been 5.5 million people eligible for a free vaccine.

Between 2013 and 2016 there have been an estimated 17,000 GP visits for shingles avoided.

While it is not always possible to prevent the condition, it can reduce your chances of getting it.

Public Health England (PHE) estimate that it is 62 per cent effective against shingles, and they are urging more people in their 70s to take up the offer of a free vaccine.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE, said: "It's the best way to avoid this very nasty disease and the long-term complications that can develop from having it.

"Our population is ageing and the risk from getting shingles and complications is higher as you get older.

"Immunisation is the best way to protect yourself from this painful, sometimes debilitating condition."

However, the vaccine is not available on the NHS if you are 80.

Early symptoms of shingles, according to the NHS, include:

- a headache

- burning, tingling, numbness or itchiness of the skin in the affected area

- a feeling of being generally unwell

- a high temperature

They can develop into a painful rash and itchy blisters that can last two to three weeks.

It is not contagious, but it is possible to catch chickenpox from someone with shingles if you haven't had chickenpox before.

Risk factors for shingles include old age, stress, having had chemotherapy and suffering from HIV and AIDS.