THE inaugural “It’s Not Worth The Pain” campaign to raise awareness of shingles among Malaysians was launched last month.
Organised by healthcare company MSD, the campaign is supported by the Malaysian Society of Geriatric Medicine (MSGM), Dermatological Society of Malaysia (PDM), Malaysian Association for the Study of Pain (MASP) and the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS).
Known traditionally as “snake disease”, shingles is an extremely painful and debilitating rash. About 95% of adults over the age of 50 are at risk of shingles if they had previously contracted the chickenpox virus earlier in their lives.
Both chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same varicella zoster virus. According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three people will develop shingles in their lifetime.
Older adults who have had chickenpox face a higher risk of getting shingles as the varicella zoster virus never leaves their body. Rather, it remains inactive for many years in the nerve roots before flaring up again as shingles.
Shingles can, in fact, recur several times in a lifetime.
“Shingles impacts millions of elderly people and their families globally. We are committed to helping Malaysians learn more about shingles and avoiding the painful burden of this disease. We are thankful for the strong support shown by both leading medical associations and not-for-profit organisations. Their invaluable contribution will ensure that our community realises that shingles is really not worth the pain,” said MSD Malaysia managing director Annie Chin, during the nationwide campaign kick-off event.
According to MSGM chairman Prof Philip Poi, Malaysians still lack awareness and knowledge about the risks and complications of shingles.
“Many Malaysians still hold to the assumption that one can only be infected by the chickenpox-shingles virus once in their lifetime, and that they gain immunity thereafter. This has been proven to be untrue.
“On the contrary, the risk of getting shingles tends to rise at around age 50 because older adults are likely to have a weaker immune system,” said Prof Poi.
“There is no known cure for shingles, and neither are there ways to predict when the chickenpox-shingles virus will reactivate in the body. Furthermore, we cannot easily predict how severe the infection and resultant complications will be. One way to reduce the risk of developing shingles is to get vaccinated,” he added.
PDM reminds Malaysians to immediately seek medical advice at the earliest sign of shingles, which include itching, tingling or a burning sensation.
These symptoms will later develop into a rash with fluid-filled blisters, which may cause mild to severe pain.
“Shingles should not be dismissed as just a rash or skin condition that older people get.
“It is extremely crucial that shingles be diagnosed within 72 hours of infection for antiviral medicines to be effective in helping to reduce the severity of pain and duration of shingles.
“The shingles awareness campaign also serves as a perfect platform to help Malaysians recognise symptoms of shingles so that early action can be taken,” said PDM president Dr Najeeb Safdar.
MASP president Dr Mary Cardosa cautions that shingles can cause unbearable pain often described as burning, aching, stabbing and shock-like.
In up to 50% of patients, shingles could lead to further complications, one of them being postherpetic neuralgia, a long-term nerve pain that can last for months, or even years.
“Postherpetic neuralgia is a painful, chronic condition that can make people feel truly miserable.
In one study, 42% of patients referred to their worst shingles pain as excruciating. As a result of the persistent pain, the patient is likely to have a decline in physical and social functioning, as well as an increase in emotional distress.
“The campaign tagline resonates with Malaysians as pain is one of the most common side effects of shingles. We want to create wide awareness so that the public will seek preventive measures to avoid this debilitating disease.
“There is pain, and then there’s shingles pain,” she said.
Meanwhile, MHAS encourages all Malaysians to take preventive steps, including immunisation, if they want to truly enjoy their golden years.
“Staying healthy is a priority for all of us.
“Getting vaccinated is a simple, but important step to help prevent diseases that could lead to serious health problems and hefty medical bills.
“The campaign message is a clarion call for those who are at risk to gain full knowledge on shingles and avoid unnecessary psychological and financial burden,” said MHAS president Dr Lim Poh Hin.