Promote Awareness of Dangerous Disease That Strikes Both Young And Old

A growing number of people are suffering from shingles, also known as herpes zoster, which causes pain and rashes. It is important to know that shingles is a serious disease that affects not only elderly people but also younger generations.

A typical symptom of shingles is a stripe of blisters on one side of the body. Severe cases may involve excruciating pain and paralysis, or even the loss of vision.

After a person has chicken pox, the virus remains latent in their body even after recovery. If the virus is reactivated due to weakened resistance caused by aging or fatigue, shingles can develop.

There is no national data on shingles patients, but a survey conducted in Miyazaki Prefecture found the number of patients had increased by 60% over the about 20 years from 1997. The central government should ascertain the situation nationwide and increase public awareness of the disease.

One factor behind the current situation is the greater number of elderly people. The disease becomes more common around the age of 50, and by the age of 80, one in three people will develop shingles.

Recently, however, the number of patients in their 20s to 40s is also increasing. This is partly because vaccinating infants against chicken pox has been routine since 2014.

Chicken pox is no longer as prevalent as it used to be, and those who have already had it are less likely to be exposed to the virus again. As a result, immunity has not been strengthened, and even young people are more likely to develop shingles as a result of the activation of the virus that had been lurking in their bodies.

Antiviral drugs are highly effective in the early stages of shingles, but if diagnosis is delayed, the prolonged pain and other symptoms may interfere with daily life. Some patients mistakenly believe they have been bitten by insects and do not seek medical attention until their symptoms become severe.

Administrative bodies and experts must make efforts to disseminate easy-to-understand information on the initial symptoms and treatment methods, so that patients can recognize the disease early and receive appropriate treatment at medical institutions.

To prevent the disease, it is essential to get enough sleep, eat a well-balanced diet and exercise moderately. It is also important to consider vaccination.

Two types of vaccines that are effective against shingles have been approved. However, as vaccinations are administered on a voluntary basis, the entire cost must be paid by the individual. An increasing number of local governments are providing subsidies to cover part of the expense, but the amount individuals have to pay depends on the region where they live.

The government had discussed whether to make shingles vaccinations a standard inoculation, the cost of which is covered by public funds, but deliberations stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government must carefully assess the current situation and proceed with discussions on what measures are appropriate to halt the increase in the number of patients.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 30, 2023)