97% of Australian adults have been exposed to the chickenpox virus and are therefore at risk of developing shingles at some point in their lives. (1)
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus lays dormant in the nerves and it can reactivate at any time, most commonly in older age, causing shingles.
There are an estimated 120,000 new cases of shingles annually in Australia and the substantial burden of shingles increases over time, most prominently in the older population. (2)
Shingles is characterised by a blistering rash which appears as a band or belt on one side of the body, however shingles is more than just a rash.
What symptoms should I look out for?
In most cases there are initial symptoms 48-72 hours before the rash appears including sensitivity to light, headaches, itching, tingling or severe pain in the affected area and a general feeling of being unwell. Most people with shingles develop a painful rash, which usually appears as a band or belt on one side of their body.
There is no cure for shingles. However there are treatments that can help reduce the severity and duration of shingles if administered within 72 hours of the onset of the rash.
What are some of the complications of shingles?
A common, debilitating complication of shingles is long term nerve pain. This pain can be excruciating, and has been described as throbbing, burning, stabbing and sharp. Up to one in five shingles sufferers may go on to develop long term nerve pain,(3),(4) which can last for months or even years. In results from a recently released consumer survey of 1,000 Australians aged 70-79 years, among 27% of surveyed people who have had shingles, 41% of these people developed shingles nerve pain. Of these, 39% had pain which lasted for a few weeks, 18% had pain which lasted for several months and 10% had nerve pain for over a year.(5)
Shingles can also lead to other complications such as bacterial skin infection, neurological complications, and may also increase the risk of stroke in the following six months after the onset of shingles.(6)
Shingles around the eye area, also known as ophthalmic zoster occurs in up to 25% of shingles cases, and can lead to facial scarring and loss of vision.(4),(7)
The consumer survey research also found some common misconceptions among this age group when it comes to shingles – around 70% of survey respondents did not know they are at high risk of shingles and 38% did not know that you can get shingles more than once.(5)
Who is at risk of developing shingles?
It is estimated one in three Australians may develop shingles in their lifetime,(4) and nearly all adults have the zoster virus within them.(1) One of the more challenging aspects of shingles is that there is no way to predict who will develop shingles, when, or how severe it will be. For older adults, shingles can be serious, as the frequency and severity of complications increases with age, particularly after the age of 70.
What can I do?
If shingles is a concern for you or a loved one, you should talk to your doctor for more information about shingles, including government funded prevention and treatment options.
(1). Gidding et al. Epidemiol Infect 2003;131(3):1085–9 (2). MacIntyre R. et. al, PLoS One 2015; 10(4):e0125025 (3). Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). The Australian immunisation handbook 10th ed (2017 update). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health, 2017 (4). Harpaz R et al. MMRW 2008 Jun 6;57 (RR-5):1-30. (5). Seqirus Data on File. Galaxy Consumer Research. June 2017 (6). Langan SM et al. Clin. Infect. Dis 2014; 58: 1497-1503 (7). NCIRS Herpes Zoster Factsheet August 2017 http://www.ncirs.edu.au/assets/provider_resources/factsheets/zoster-vaccine-fact-sheet.pdf Accessed February 2018.
Seqirus™ is a trademark of Seqirus UK Limited or its affiliates. Seqirus (Australia) Pty Ltd. ABN 66 120 398 067, 63 Poplar Road Parkville, Victoria 3052. Date of preparation March 2018. SEQ/ZOST/1217/0271