About 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetime, regardless of how healthy they may feel.1-4
†Shingles is caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox earlier in life.
Interrupted by shingles
“I was going to retire and go travelling but I’m stuck here with shingles, and this pain. I just can’t go anywhere.”
“The pain had intensified to the point where I couldn’t function. It’s really hard. It controls your whole life.”
*Individual patients’ symptoms of shingles may vary. These statements are based on some patients' description of their shingles pain and do not represent every patient's experience.
WHO'S AT RISK?
- Over 70% of shingles cases occur in people aged over 50 years.2
- About 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetime, regardless of how healthy they may feel.1-4
- Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles, especially people over 50, those with a weakened immune system, and those who had chickenpox in their first year of life.3
- Nearly all adults 50 years and older already carry the inactive virus that causes shingles.1-4
- Those with a weakened immune system, including people who have chronic health conditions may be more likely to develop shingles.1-4
- The likelihood of painful complications from shingles increases with age.1-3
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus (the same virus that causes chickenpox). It usually affects people aged 50 years and older as well as people with weakened immune systems. Shingles typically causes a painful skin rash, often with blisters. The rash typically appears on one side of the body or face and can last two to four weeks.1-5
While most people recover fully, some people may experience longer term complications such as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), neurological problems, ophthalmic (eye) disease, hearing problems and altered balance.1-4,6-8
Shingles typically produces a painful and blistering rash, erupting in a stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or right side of the torso, along a nerve path. It can develop on the torso, arms, thighs, or head (including in the eyes or ears). The most common places are the chest and abdomen.
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.
Some people experience pain, itching, or tingling before the rash appears, or numbness localised to the area where it will develop. This may happen 48–72 hours before the rash appears.
You may also experience fever, headache, chills or an upset stomach.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please see your healthcare professional as soon as possible.
A person’s risk of developing shingles increases with age. This is because the immune system naturally weakens over time, which can allow the usually inactive virus to reactivate, despite how healthy you may feel. Anyone who has had chickenpox already carries the inactive virus that can cause shingles.
Some people may have had chickenpox without knowing or don't remember if they have. In fact, nearly all people 50 years and older already carry the inactive virus.1-4 About 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetime.1-4
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.
Nearly all people 50 years and older already carry the inactive virus that causes shingles.1-4 About 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetime1-4
Shingles occurs when the virus that’s already in your body reactivates, so it cannot be passed from one person to another. However, since the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles are the same, if a person who has never had or isn’t protected against chickenpox comes into direct contact with the blisters of someone with shingles, they could get chickenpox.
The risk of a second or subsequent episode of shingles is around 5% although the risk of recurrence increases in people with weakened immune systems.2
Our immune systems tend to decline over time. Stress and chronic health conditions can also weaken our immunity, making us more susceptible to infections.
People aged 50 and older are more susceptible to recurrent episodes of shingles, especially if the pain from previous episode/s lasted longer than 30 days.5
While most people recover fully, some people may experience complications. These can include:†
Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) is nerve pain that persists after the shingles rash has healed, which can last for months or years in the same area where they had the rash. It can be more common and more severe in older people than in younger people. Up to 25% of people with shingles who are aged 70 years and older may develop PHN.2,3
Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus (HZO) Shingles can appear as herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO), a shingles rash involving the eye or the nose, and can lead to long-term consequences, including pain, scarring and loss of vision (in rare cases). HZO affects up to 20% of people who get shingles.2,3
Other complications include neurological problems, ophthalmic (eye) disease, hearing problems and altered balance.6-8
†This is not an exhaustive list of complications which can arise from shingles. Please speak to a healthcare professional for more information
Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the virus that remains in your body for life after you have had chickenpox. If you haven’t had chickenpox, then avoiding contact with active chickenpox and shingles cases, hand hygiene and cough hygiene may reduce your risk.
Treatment may reduce the severity and duration of illness and depending on your symptoms may include weakening the virus and/or pain relief.
Speak to a healthcare professional about potential prevention and treatment options.
Contact your healthcare professional as soon as possible if you think you have a case of shingles. Your healthcare professional will be able to advise you on the optimal approach to managing it.
REFERENCES: 1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention of herpes zoster: recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR. 2008 Jun;57(RR-5):1–30. 2. National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) Zoster vaccines for Australian adults fact sheet. Updated May 2022. Available at: ncirs.org.au/ncirs-fact-sheets-faqs-and-other-resources/zoster (accessed November 2022). 3. Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). Australian Immunisation handbook, Australian Government Department of Health, Canberra, 2022. Updated May 2022. Available at immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au (accessed November 2022). 4. National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) Zoster vaccines for Australian adults. Frequently asked questions. Updated May 2022. Available at: ncirs.org.au/ncirs-fact-sheets-faqs-and-other-resources/zoster (accessed November 2022). 5. Yawn BP, et al. Herpes zoster recurrences more frequent than previously reported. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2011;86:88–93. 6. Kedar S, Jayagopal LN, Berger JR. Neurological and ophthalmological manifestations of varicella zoster virus. J Neuroophthalmol. 2019 Jun;39(2):220–231. 7. Espiritu, Rachel MD; Rich, Michael MD Herpes Zoster Encephalitis,: 2 case reports and review of literature. Infectious Diseases in Clinical Practice 2007 Jul;15(4):284–288. 8. Cohen BE, Durstenfeld A, Roehm PC. Viral causes of hearing loss: a review for hearing health professionals. Trends Hear. 2014 Jul;18:1–17.