Thursday, December 7, 2023

Olympian warns ‘don’t downplay shingles risk’

Australians 50 years of age and older are being urged not to downplay the risk of shingles. With nearly nine million Australians now aged over 50, health care professionals, including campaign ambassador and former Olympian, Dr Jana Pittman, are using Shingles Awareness Week (27 February to 5 March) to educate people about the likelihood of being affected by shingles. 

Dr Jana Pittman says, when it comes to shingles, many people have a natural tendency to believe it ‘won’t happen to me’, which is a concern. 

“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.”

Shingles is a painful and potentially debilitating condition triggered by the reactivation of the chicken pox virus, usually during adulthood. Those who have had chickenpox already carry the virus that causes shingles.

From a recent survey commissioned by GSK Australia, which includes a sample group of 300 Australians aged 50-79, 73% of participants perceived the impact of shingles as ‘very serious’, but only 11% regarded themselves as being personally at risk of shingles in the next year.

Dr Pittman, healthcare professional Sarah Chu, and former high school teacher, Bernie Blackall, whose life was interrupted by shingles, urge Australians to add questions about shingles to their health check list once they hit 50, and start conversations with their healthcare professional about their risk of developing shingles. 

According to Dr Sarah Chu, who is an Australian GP with an interest in preventative health, it’s important to talk about shingles because anybody who has had chickenpox before is at risk of developing shingles.  

“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. 

Australian high school teacher, Bernie Blackall (pictured, above), experienced shingles in his early 60s.

“The pain was so intense, it was excruciating; worse than when I dislocated my shoulder. I thought it would never happen to me, but it ended up impacting my quality of life for several months. It effectively prevented me from doing most of the things I really enjoy,” said Mr Blackall. 

Shingles Awareness Week aims to increase understanding of the impact of shingles and address the common misconceptions surrounding the risk of developing shingles. 

To help reduce the impact on people’s lives and the disruption to everyday activities that shingles can cause, Dr Pittman and Dr Chu encourage everyone 50 years of age and over to speak to their healthcare professional and learn more about the signs, symptoms and risk factors for shingles.  

For more information about shingles, speak to your healthcare professional and visit knowshingles.com.au.   

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