Practice nurse Sue Adams first contracted herpes zoster (shingles) in 1976, age 25 years. She has experienced two further episodes of shingles and has occasional flare-ups of symptoms.
'I don't think anyone appreciates how debilitating shingles is, and how depressed one can become,' she explains. 'The pain is the most significant long-term side effect. It still comes and goes - particularly in early spring time.'
Reactivation of virus
Shingles is caused by secondary reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, a member of the human herpes virus group. It lies latent in nerve tissue close to the brain and spinal cord following primary infection, which usually occurs as a child with varicella (chickenpox).
'As a child I had the usual diseases: measles, mumps, whooping cough, polio and chickenpox. With each, I seemed to have a bad reaction. I was in hospital with polio and the chickenpox was quite severe,' says Ms Adams.
An American study of 1,700 patients who had a documented case of shingles between 1996 and 2001 found around 5 per cent were treated for a second episode within an average of eight years.1 For Ms Adams to have suffered three episodes is highly unusual.
When Ms Adams initially contracted shingles, neither preventive vaccination nor anti-viral agents were available.