Shingles Awareness Week Sheds Light on Common and Misunderstood Virus

Shingles Awareness Week is February 26 through March 3

Nearly everyone in the world is at risk for shingles as they get older.

Medical experts with GSK, as part of GSK’s THRIVE@50+ campaign say 99% of adults 50 years of age or older already have the virus in them that causes shingles because they had chicken pox when they were younger.

Both illnesses are caused by the varicella-zoster virus.

So what exactly is shingles? Dr. Leah Smith, a pharmacist and vaccine educator with GSK said shingles is a condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It often starts with a painful rash on one side of the body that turns into blisters and scabs.

“Once you have chicken pox in your childhood, the virus lays dormant or goes silent for many, many years. As your immune system starts to decline naturally with age, it can reactive as shingles,” said Dr. Smith.

If you did not have chicken pox when you were younger, you cannot get shingles.

A common misconception about shingles is many people believe they aren’t at risk.

GSK conducted a global survey on shingles and found that 86% of adults either underestimate their risk or are completely unaware of the potential severity of shingles. The CDC estimates one million people in the United States will develop shingles every year.

“The biggest risk factor is age and as much as we try, we cannot avoid aging,” Dr. Smith said.

Laarni was a shingles patient who never thought she would get the virus.

She was on a flight when she noticed a small bump on the left side of her forehead. She didn’t think much of the bump but it kept growing as the flight progressed. When landing at her destination she went to an urgent care and was told to go to the emergency room.

“This condition took me by surprise. I consider myself healthy and active and I thought it was a pimple,” Laarni said.

If you are 50 years or older, ask your doctor or pharmacist about your risk for shingles and about vaccination.

“Be very mindful. If there are discomforts, pains or unusual occurrences happening, consult with your provider and discuss further,” said Laarni.

The virus will always stay in your body and can reactivate.

About the Author

Halee Powers is a KSAT producer primarily focused on digital newscasts and events.

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