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GSK Survey Discovers Extensive Misconceptions About Shingles


Findings show that a considerable number of adults remain uneducated on how herpes zoster is triggered.

Diagnosis - Shingles. Medical Concept.  Image Credit: Adobe Stock Images/tashatuvango

Image Credit: Adobe Stock Images/tashatuvango

Data from a recent global survey conducted by GSK indicates some significant gaps in the understanding of shingles amongst adults aged 50 years and over, who at the greatest risk of developing the disease. Despite being one of the top researched diseases on Google, interest in being educated on the subject is high, but the company study suggests that understanding is comparatively low.1

GSK’s online survey included 3,500 adults aged 50 years and over from 12 countries, assessing respondents’ understanding of shingles, what may trigger it, and its impact on people’s lives. According to the study, the top three misconceptions about shingles were that it was possible to catch shingles from somebody else, catch it from somebody with chickenpox, and that it can’t be developed again if you already had it.1

According to Geisinger, other myths include the belief that only seniors can get shingles, it’s a rare disease, and that it isn’t dangerous.2

“A weakened immune system increases the risk for shingles exponentially, and stress itself can be a factor, but most cases of shingles happen when people don’t have any underlying defect in their immune system,” Stanley Martin, MD, said in the Geisinger report.2 “In other words, this can happen to healthy people, but risk goes up in settings of older age, stress and weakened immune systems.”

Shingles is a viral infection caused by varicella-zoster virus and leads to a painful rash that can occur anywhere on the body. After an individual has had chickenpox, the virus stays in the body for the entire lifespan and may reactivate as shingles at any point. Early treatment may shorten the duration of the infection and reduce the risk of complications, the most common of which is postherpetic neuralgia.3

A individual with shingles can pass varicella-zoster virus to a person who isn't immune to chickenpox, typically via direct contact with the open sores of the rash. The newly infected individuals will develop chickenpox instead of shingles, however.3

Risk factors for varicella-zoster virus include older age, immune system-weakening diseases such as HIV, radiation or chemotherapy for cancer, and some medications, such as those that prevent rejection of organ transplant and some steroids, such as prednisone.3

In the span of a year leading up to September 2023, there was a 70% increase in the number of Google searches for the question, “Is shingles contagious by touch or airborne?” This suggest an increasing interest in shingles and the continued lack of understanding about the disease.1

“Shingles can have a profound impact on the lives of people and their families. With over half of the respondents believing that shingles can be ‘caught’ from someone else suffering from the disease, among other frequent misunderstandings revealed by the survey, these results emphasize the continuing need for enhanced awareness for this condition,” said Piyali Mukherjee, VP, head of Global medical affairs, vaccines, GSK, in a company press release. “We encourage all adults over 50 to approach their healthcare professionals for guidance on how to recognize, understand, and reduce their risk of developing this debilitating disease.”


1. New global survey finds widespread misunderstandings about shingles despite its lifetime prevalence. GSK. November 30, 2023. Accessed December 1, 2023. https://www.gsk.com/en-gb/media/press-releases/new-global-survey-finds-widespread-misunderstandings-about-shingles-despite-its-lifetime-prevalence/

2. 5 myths about shingles. Geisinger. March 27, 2023. Accessed December 1, 2023. https://www.geisinger.org/health-and-wellness/wellness-articles/2023/03/21/13/59/5-myths-about-shingles

3. Shingles. Mayo Clinic. Webpage. Updated August 20, 2022. Accessed December 1, 2023. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/shingles/symptoms-causes/syc-20353054

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