Most Indian Adults in the Dark about Shingles Risk

New survey shows over 80% underestimate their chances of getting painful shingles

A shocking number of Indian adults over 50 do not understand the risks of developing the extremely painful skin rash illness known as shingles, a new survey has found.

Funded by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the global survey polled over 3,500 older adults across 12 countries, including 500 respondents from India. It aimed to assess their knowledge of shingles – what causes it, who is most at risk, and how it impacts people’s lives.

The results reveal a widespread lack of shingles understanding in the country. Over 80% of Indian survey takers underestimated their odds of getting shingles. This is higher than the global average of 86% showing knowledge gaps.

“We were surprised that so many Indian adults were unaware of shingles and their risks,” said Dr. Rashmi Hegde, GSK’s VP of Medical Affairs in India. “Shingles can be extremely painful and disruptive to seniors’ daily lives, so raising awareness is crucial.”

A Painful Reawakening

Shingles result from the reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox – varicella zoster. Most adults carry this latent virus in their nervous systems from childhood chickenpox infections. But as immunity declines with age, the virus can reemerge along nerve fibers as a blistering shingles rash.

Up to 1 in 3 adults will get shingles in their lifetime. Among those over 85, the odds increase to 1 in 2. Yet only around 20% of surveyed Indian seniors believed they faced even a 1 in 1,000 chance of shingles.

“Shingles risk rises sharply after 50 and continues climbing as people advance in years,” Hegde said. “So awareness among older Indian adults is especially important.”

Seniors Underestimate Impact

Beyond underestimating risk, many Indian survey takers did not fully grasp shingles’ severity. The blistery, burning rash outbreaks usually last 2-4 weeks. But 1 in 5 patients deal with debilitating nerve pain for months or years after – a condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Yet only 5% of Indian respondents believed shingles impact daily life for over a month. Far more – nearly 50% – thought symptoms disappear in under 2 weeks.

“The disconnect between perception and reality is concerning,” said Hegde. “Left unaware, seniors may fail to take shingles seriously enough and delay seeking treatment.”

Seeking to Spark Understanding

To address knowledge gaps among older Indian adults, GSK India timed its survey release to Shingles Awareness Week 2024, running February 26 – March 3. The awareness campaign strives to educate seniors on shingles, using media interviews, social media posts, and informational seminars.

“We want to spark understanding in the 50-plus population of how much shingles can affect health and quality of life,” Hegde said. “And that early treatment is key to easing the burden.”

Two shingles vaccines are now available in India for immunocompetent adults 50 and over. Zostavax has been around since 2016, while the newer Shingrix arrived in 2022. But uptake has been slow, with under 3% of eligible Indian seniors vaccinated.

“Vaccines can cut shingles risk by over 90%, yet we’ve seen hesitancy to adopt them,” said Hegde. “Raising awareness of shingles’ impacts may motivate more seniors to get protected.”

As India’s 50-plus population booms in the coming years, keeping seniors informed and healthy will only grow in importance. A little awareness can go a long way for a painful disease like shingles lurking unseen.


Anjali is an experienced and acclaimed health and wellness writer known for her informative articles published on premier news websites. With over 5 years of experience translating complex nutritional research into understandable advice.

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