Shingles is a viral infection that is caused by the reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox (also known as the varicella zoster virus), resulting in a painful, blistering skin rash. It’s a disease that can affect anyone, at any age who has had chickenpox, but it is most common in people 50 years of age and older4. Nearly all people in this age group have varicella zoster in their body1-4.
The risk of developing shingles increases as we get older. This is because as we age, particularly after 50, our immune system naturally declines. Other risk factors for shingles includes having a weakened immune system or contracting chickenpox in the first year of life.
However, not everyone who has had chickenpox will develop shingles but studies have revealed that up to one in three risk developing shingles in their lifetime1-4. Even if you are healthy, the varicella zoster virus can still reactivate, causing shingles.
The shingles rash appears as red blotches on your skin, which can feel itchy and turn into painful blisters that can take several weeks to heal. You may also experience fever, headache, chills, sensitivity to light and touch, an upset stomach and an overall sense of not feeling well.
Shingles usually affects one side of the body or face and can develop on your torso, arms, thighs, or head – including in your eyes or ears. However, most people develop shingles around their chest area and abdomen.
People often describe the pain of shingles as aching, burning, stabbing, or shock-like. As a result, shingles has the potential to impact your ability to do simple, everyday activities like getting dressed, walking, and sleeping. In some cases, people report early symptoms such as pain, itching, tingling or numbness 48-72 hours before the rash develops in the area.
But shingles doesn’t just affect you physically – it can take an emotional toll on you as well. It is debilitating and can leave you feeling frustrated and helpless when you can’t do the things you want to do. It can also have a negative impact on your mood, sleep, mobility and social life.
While most cases of shingles resolve without treatment and most people make a full recovery, there is up to a 25 per cent risk4 of developing long-term complications that can have a negative impact on your life after the blisters have healed. Shingles complications can be serious and include:
When you have shingles it is important to stay away from vulnerable people until a crust forms on the rash, due to the impact it could have on their health. This includes pregnant women, premature babies, children that have never had chickenpox or a chicken pox vaccine and people with a weakened immune system.
If you have shingles, it’s important to cover the rash, avoid touching it and to wash your hands regularly to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body. The best thing you can do is seek help from a GP or health professional as soon as possible.
It can take anywhere between 10 to 15 days for the blistering rash to scab over and then 2 to 4 weeks to fully clear up.
Because the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles are the same, a person who has never had and isn’t protected 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.
People usually only get shingles once in their lifetime. But sometimes, especially if you have a weakened immune system, you might get repeated infections.
If you’ve never had chickenpox, you can’t develop shingles. However, you may have been exposed to the virus without knowing, or you may not remember, which means you may be at risk of developing shingles.
For more information about shingles please talk to your doctor and to learn more, visit knowshingles.com.au
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.
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.