THURSDAY, Aug. 17, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Most older Americans have heard of the painful nerve condition known as shingles but few know much about it, a new survey finds.
Shingles is an often painful disease that's marked by a blistering rash, usually on one side of the face or body. It's caused by the reactivation of the same virus that caused chickenpox in a person and can occur at anytime without warning.
More than 90 percent of American adults have had chickenpox, which means they could develop shingles. The frequency and severity of shingles increases with age, according to the American Pain Foundation (APF), which sponsored the new survey.
Of the estimated 1 million cases of shingles diagnosed each year in the United States, 40 percent to 50 percent occur in people aged 60 and older.
The survey included 1,465 older people, including 401 who said they'd had shingles in the past. Among the 1,064 respondents who did not report having had shingles:
- 85 percent (905 people) said they'd heard of shingles, but only 8 percent said they knew a lot about the disease.
- 53 percent of the 905 respondents who reported having heard of shingles weren't sure about the risk factors for shingles. Only a few correctly identified having had chickenpox (14 percent) or age (3 percent) as risk factors.
- 60 percent of the 905 people who said they'd heard of shingles said they weren't aware that shingles can lead to chronic pain in some people. This pain can last for months or even years after the rash phase of the disease.
Among the 401 people who reported having had shingles:
- 88 percent reported having a rash or blisters during their shingles episode.
- Many reported that they experienced severe (35 percent), very severe (11 percent), or intolerable (6 percent) pain during the first weeks of having shingles.
In an effort to improve public awareness about shingles, the APF has launched a national health education program, "Spotlight on Shingles." It recommends that older Americans who've had chickenpox talk to their doctor or another health-care provider about their risk for shingles.
The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about shingles.