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Shingles can be shocking – so get ahead of it

It’s more than a decade since I suffered my most debilitating post-herpetic nerve (PHN) pain in response to shingles but I still get shivers down my spine whenever I think about it.

It was horrible.

When I get shingles it mainly affects my facial nerve (and they call this trigeminal). The first time it happened, my left cheek appeared to have rapidly acquired a bonsai-espaliered tree made of flaming red blisters. The blisters later turned into crusty yellow sores – and the whole experience scared the heck out of me.

And yes, before I got the antivirals, the pain and the tiredness were both incredible.

My severe episode of PHN happened long before there was much reliable information about shingles or PHN on the Internet. I hassled all the health professionals in my life for information a lot because the pain seemed so unrelenting, crippling and searing it was stopping me from doing just about anything.

Shingles is also known as herpes zoster and it is the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.

My best line of defence has been the antivirals, but now there’s also a vaccine – and some people are eligible for it for free. Ineligible people need to pay for it and the cost depends on the type of vaccine, the formula and where you buy it from.

The Know Shingles ( campaign launched last year is raising awareness of the signs, symptoms and risk factors shingles and its website makes it very easy to find what you need from it.

I learned from the site that up to 1 in 3 people risk developing shingles in their lifetime, which is a lot when you think about it. The site also confirmed that up to 25 per cent of Australians with shingles may develop PHN, which can result in persistent nerve pain for months or even years after the initial shingles rash resolves itself.

Please don’t wait to get shingles before you check the Know Shingles website out and, as it advises, please also talk to your GP.


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