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Kiwis have the highest awareness of shingles

New global survey shows Kiwis have the highest awareness of shingles in the world yet underestimate their risk

Kiwis aged 50+ are in the highest risk category for shingles, yet 78% in this age group assume they are not at risk

The recent Shingles Global Awareness Survey showed that 100% of New Zealanders aged 50+ who were approached were aware of shingles – the highest percentage of all 22 countries surveyed worldwide.

Kiwis were also amongst the world’s most knowledgeable about the disease, with nearly one third (32%) able to correctly identify chickenpox as the cause, compared to a global average of just 2%. Yet over one third (37%) of the population are unaware of the risk factors for shingles and more than three quarters (78%) thought it was unlikely, or very unlikely, they would ever get it themselves.

Shingles is an often painful disease that is marked by a blistering rash usually on one side of the body or face and can affect an individual at anytime without warning. It is caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. All those who have experienced chickenpox are at risk for shingles, and the frequency and severity of shingles increases with age, with those aged over 50 years most at risk.

It can also affect those whose immune system is compromised as a result of certain diseases and their treatments. Globally up to one in five people will develop shingles during their lifetime and although the skin rash often heals after a few days without complication, pain can often persist for longer. Persistent pain is the most common, long-term complication associated with shingles and is known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Of those surveyed who hadn’t experienced shingles, 92% said they considered themselves either ‘very knowledgeable’ or as having ‘a little’ or ‘some knowledge’ of shingles. Of those surveyed, only 5% knew that age was a risk factor and 36% thought it was caused by anxiety or stress.

Dr Stewart Reid, Consultant to the Immunisation Advisory Centre at Auckland University says,
"These new results demonstrate that New Zealander’s are amongst the most knowledgeable in the world when it comes to shingles, but most do not think they themselves could be at risk. Anyone who has had chicken pox is at risk, especially those over 50 years of age.

"Also with new developments on the way, all those at high risk need to be aware of what will be available to protect them from suffering unnecessary pain caused by shingles.”

Awareness of the symptoms of shingles
Pain was considered the worst symptom of shingles by the majority of those surveyed – 52 percent of those who had never experienced shingles said pain was the worst symptom followed by the appearance of a rash (29%). Similarly, 54% of those who had experienced shingles or had a friend or relative affected by the disease also said pain was the worse symptom, followed by the appearance of a rash (23%).

Shingles usually starts as an unusual or painful sensation on one side of the body or face, followed by the appearance of a blistering rash. The rash usually lasts up to 30 days. Pain from shingles can be mild to severe and may occur just prior to the development of the rash, during the eruption of the rash and as PHN.

PHN has been described as tender, burning, throbbing, stabbing, shooting and/or sharp pain, and it can last for months or even years. Other complications such as scarring, allodynia (pain from an innocuous stimulus such as the touch of soft clothing or a light breeze), visual impairment and hearing loss can occur as a result of shingles. Treating shingles and PHN can be difficult, often requiring a multifaceted approach.

Survey Methodology
The Shingles Global Awareness Survey was conducted in 22 countries between December 2006 and July 2007. Telephone and face-to-face interviews were conducted with the average length of each interview being between 10 and 15 minutes.

The aim of the research was to determine the levels of awareness and knowledge about shingles and how this knowledge varies for different countries throughout the world. The total number of respondents was 4479 globally, with a minimum of 200 respondents in each country to ensure that the survey population for each country was representative. Respondents were also recruited to be nationally representative in terms of socio-economic class:

  • All respondents had to be 50 years or over – in New Zealand 50% of the sample was aged 50-59, and 50% was 60 years +

  • There was generally an even split between male and female respondents – in New Zealand there was a higher number of female respondents (62%)

  • All respondents had to have heard of shingles or herpes zoster
  • The survey was carried out in 22 countries: New Zealand, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Chile, India, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Turkey, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Canada.
    The survey was conducted by Research International on behalf of Merck & Co., Inc.


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