Health issues

Shingles – not on my Christmas wish list!

Shingles comes with an array of symptoms and can affect you both physically and mentally. Image source: Getty

With Christmas and the holiday season approaching, we are all looking forward to sharing special moments with family and friends and travelling. The last thing you need is something to derail those plans – but shingles can do just that.

Shingles is an intensely painful condition caused by the reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox (varicella zoster virus). It tends to sneak up on you and come on when you least expect it, even if you are feeling well and healthy. It’s in your body from the time you have chickenpox as a child until something sets it off and it re-appears as a case of shingles. Some of the factors that can trigger shingles include age, a weakened immune system and potentially stress.

A surprise case of shingles can certainly put a stop to your holiday plans, but it may go even further than that. The impact of shingles can be devastating, both physically and mentally. The intense nerve pain caused by the virus can make it difficult to do simple things like dressing, bathing and caring for yourself, let alone hitting the road and visiting friends and family. This would take a toll on anyone, considering how much it can impact your day-to-day life.

There is also the added complication of who you can visit. Because the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles are the same, a person who has never had and is unprotected against chickenpox may be at risk if they come into direct contact with the open sores of someone with shingles. If this is the case, the person will usually develop chickenpox as opposed to shingles

This is of particular concern if you are visiting a loved one who is pregnant or are in close contact with premature or low birthweight babies, children who have not had or are unprotected against chickenpox and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Who is most at risk for shingles?

Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of getting shingles later in life, but the risk of developing shingles increases as we get older. This is because as we age, particularly after 50, our immune system naturally declines, leaving us more vulnerable to infection. Other risk factors for shingles include having a weakened immune system or contracting chickenpox in the first year of life.

If you are 50 years of age or older, there is up to a 99.5 per cent chance the varicella zoster virus is already in your body1-4. It usually stays dormant (asleep) in nerve cells near your spine, not causing any problems or symptoms. There is, however, about a one in three chance of developing shingles at some stage during your lifetime1-4.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Most cases of shingles usually last between 3 to 5 weeks, however ongoing pain and tingling can last for months or even years. The painful, blistering rash scabs over in the first 10 to 15 days and clears up within 2 to 4 weeks. Shingles can develop on your torso, arms, thighs, head and in your eyes or ears but the most common places are the chest and abdomen. You may also experience fever, headache, chills, sensitivity to light and touch, an upset stomach and a sense of not feeling well.

People often describe the pain of shingles as aching, burning, stabbing, or shock-like. In some cases, people report early symptoms such as pain, itching, tingling or numbness 48-72 hours before the rash appears in the area where it will develop.

Most people make a full recovery, however in some cases, long-term complications from shingles can develop. Unlike a cold or flu, shingles has the potential to derail not just short-term plans, but into the future. If you think you may have shingles, it is best to consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Shingles complications

While most cases of shingles resolve without treatment and most people recover fully, there is up to a 25 per cent risk of developing long-term complications4 that can have a negative impact on your life after the blisters have healed. Shingles complications can be serious and include:

  • Ongoing pain which occurs in the same area as the rash and can last for months or years. This is known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) and is more common and more severe in older people than in younger people. Up to 25 per cent of people with shingles may develop this2,3.
  • A shingles rash involving the eye or the nose, can lead to long-term consequences, including pain, scarring and loss of vision (in rare cases). This affects up to 20 per cent of people who get shingles5.
  • The effect of shingles on hearing varies considerably, with some reporting hearing problems and altered balance, but this is less common6-7.
  • Swelling of the brain can occur, however this is rare and estimated to occur in less than 1 per cent of people who get shingles8.
  • The shingles rash can become infected.

As we look forward to Christmas and precious moments shared with family and friends, there has never been a better time to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss shingles. To learn more, visit knowshingles.com.au

NP-AU-HZX-OGM-220042 Date of GSK Approval: December 2022

 

References:
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention of Herpes Zoster: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR. 2008 June;57(RR-5):1–30.
  2. Zoster vaccines: Frequently asked questions. National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) Fact Sheet. Updated May 2022. Available at https://www.ncirs.org.au/ncirs-fact-sheets-faqs/zoster-vaccinefaqs [accessed September 2022].
  3. Zoster vaccine for Australian Adults. National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) Fact sheet. Updated May 2022. Available at https://www.ncirs.org.au/healthprofessionals/ncirs-fact-sheets-faqs [accessed September 2022].
  4. Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). Australian Immunisation handbook. Australian Government Department of Health, Canberra, 2018. Available at immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au [accessed September 2022].
  5. Kedar S, Jayagopal LN, Berger JR. Neurological and Ophthalmological Manifestations of Varicella Zoster Virus. J Neuroophthalmol. 2019 Jun;39(2):220-231. doi: 10.1097/WNO.0000000000000721.
  6. Cohen BE, Durstenfeld A, Roehm PC. Viral causes of hearing loss: a review for hearing health professionals. Trends Hear. 2014 Jul 29;18:2331216514541361. doi: 10.1177/2331216514541361.
  7. Crouch AE, Andaloro C. Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. 2020 Sep 27. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan–. PMID: 32491341.
  8. Espiritu, Rachel MD; Rich, Michael MD Herpes Zoster Encephalitis, Infectious Diseases in Clinical Practice: July 2007 – Volume 15 – Issue 4 – p 284-288 doi: 10.1097/IPC.0b013e31803126f4.

GSK provided financial sponsorship for this article. This views and opinions expressed by Starts at 60 are their own and do not necessarily reflect and/ or represent the views and opinions on GSK.

Have you talked with your doctor about shingles lately?

Up to 99.5% of adults aged 50 and over already carry the inactive virus that causes shingles (1–3)

And about 1 in 3 people risk developing shingles in their lifetime, regardless of how healthy they may feel (1–3)

Talk to your doctor about shingles today.

Know the facts

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