You hear the word shingles and what are your thoughts? Do you think it’s a mildly irritating condition?
You’re not alone if you do. A survey found that most people had limited knowledge of the condition, but a health expert wants people to wake up to the potentially debilitating outcomes of developing shingles.
A leading expert in geriatric medicine, Associate Professor Michael Woodward, is on a mission to raise awareness about how painful and incapacitating shingles can be.
“As we get older, especially when we reach 50, we’re more likely to become unwell. The last thing we need is to have the burden of shingles on top of other health challenges,” he said.
Common misconceptions about shingles
New consumer research, commissioned by GSK Australia, found considerable knowledge gaps about shingles, including the following misconceptions:
- that leading a healthy lifestyle resulted in a low risk of shingles
- over a third of survey respondents believed that a history of chickenpox means they were unlikely to be at risk of developing shingles in their lifetime
- nearly 45 per cent of participants did not consider shingles would negatively impact their quality of life if they were to get it
- 33 per cent of respondents who were aware of the risk of shingles, failed to recognise pain, burning, numbness or tingling on part of the body as symptoms.
The survey also found participants didn’t think shingles would have much of an impact on their lives.
However, Assoc. Prof. Woodward said contracting shingles could have a knock-on effect on the whole family.
“It is also common these days for many Australians over 50, who are working part-time or retired, to be playing a role in the care of their grandchildren,” he said.
“Developing shingles means grandparents wouldn’t be in a position to help, not just for the duration of the disease but potentially for a longer period of time if they were to develop complications. And that can impact the whole family.”
Who carries the virus?
About one in three people will develop shingles and almost all adults over 50 carry the inactive virus.
Shingles comes with the risk of complications including post-herpetic neuralgia, which involves nerve pain that can last for months or even years.
So what exactly is shingles?
Shingles is triggered by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus, usually during adulthood. Those who have had chickenpox already carry the virus that causes shingles.
According to BetterHealth, symptoms include pain and blistering, which often appears on one side of the face or body, fatigue, headaches and tender, painful skin.
The virus responsible for shingles can be spread to a person who has not had chickenpox or vaccinations when a person comes into contact with the fluid contained in the blisters, either directly or indirectly.
A vaccine is available for people aged over 50 and a free vaccine is available for those aged 70 to 79.
Antiviral medications can help ease the pain and shorten an attack. They work best within 24 hours of the onset of a rash, so consult your doctor as soon as you can if you think you have developed shingles.
If you have developed shingles, you should keep the rash dry and clean, cover it if possible to avoid spreading the virus and try not to scratch the affected area.
You can also wear loose natural fibres, use ice packs to help with the discomfort and do not share towels, play contact sports or go swimming.
Have you ever had shingles? Were you surprised at the effects? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?
Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.