Shingles: who is most at-risk and what are the signs?

Shingles: who is most at-risk and what are the signs?
This week marks Shingles Awareness Week, an important opportunity to understand the risks and misconceptions about this condition. 

Shingles is a painful and potentially debilitating condition and one that one in three people will experience in their lifetime. Campaign ambassador and former Olympian Dr Jana Pittman says that when it comes to shingles, many people have a tendency to believe that “it won’t happen to me”. However, up to 99.5% of adults aged 50 and older already carry the inactive virus that causes shingles.

“The people most at risk of developing shingles are those over the age of 50, and those who are immunocompromised; however, the reality is that about one in three people will develop shingles in their lifetime,” said Dr Pittman.

“I’ve seen first-hand how hard shingles can be, so it’s important to arm yourself with information, know what the signs and symptoms are, and go to see your GP early.”

Who is at risk?

Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk of developing shingles, explains Dr Sarah Chu, an Australian GP with an interest in preventative health.

“There is an age-related decline in our immunity. This has implications because for most people who’ve had chickenpox before, it’s their immune system that keeps this virus at bay. As we get older, this age-related decline means that we may no longer suppress the virus, and reactivation of this leads to shingles.

“It’s the group in the fifties and sixties I find, who still feel quite young on the inside, that significantly underestimate their risk of developing shingles. It can be a painful disease that may severely impact a person’s quality of life, so I really encourage people to talk to their GP about shingles,” said Dr Chu.

What are the symptoms?

Prevention can be key to reducing the impact shingles can have to people’s everyday lives. Symptoms typically include a painful and blistering rash, which turns into a stripe of blisters that wraps around the left or ride side of the torso. It can also develop on the arms, thighs or head.

According to “People often describe the pain as aching, burning, stabbing, or shock-like, and it may interfere with everyday activities, like getting dressed, walking, and sleeping. Other symptoms of shingles may include sensitivity to light, headache, and a sense of not feeling well.

Dr Chu recommends everyone over 50 years of age to speak to their GP and learn about the signs, symptoms and risk factors for shingles.



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