'It was unbearable' - serial shingles sufferer urges people to get vaccinated

7:26 pm on 25 July 2022

A wahine Māori who has been infected with shingles several times is urging people to get vaccinated, as a new study has found a link between Covid-19 infection and an increased susceptibility to virus.

Shingles symptoms on arm

Shingles symptoms on arm. File photo. Photo: 123RF

Wahine Māori Nellmarie Toia from Waiheke Island (Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui) is no stranger to shingles, having had the virus three times in her life.

The 63-year-old property manager was first infected with the virus in her late 20s, then contracted the virus again in her mid 30's and mid 40's.

Toia said she had no idea what the rash was when she was first infected and left it too late before seeking medical attention.

"I just had an itchy back and I was scratching it, not realising I just thought oh maybe I got a fleabite.

"After about probably two days it started to hurt, really hurt. I waited a little bit and it got more severe. After about probably five days I finally trotted off to the doctor but it was full-blown by then and then all of blisters had come up and they got infected," she said.

The rash had spread across her body and had become infected from her sweat glands perspiring into the wounds.

She described the pain as excruciating.

"The pain was like having needles pressed into your skin and then twisted, as you can imagine it was absolutely unbearable and nothing you could do to stop the pain," said Toia.

Last week, she bought two doses of the Shingrix vaccine that is proven to be over 90 percent effective against shingles.

Despite the $340 price tag, she strongly urged others to get the jab.

"Go and get the vaccine if you don't want to be debilitated... Because I got it under the armpit and around my middle and across my back, doesn't mean to say that you're not going to get it in your eyes or across your mouth, or down your groin. You can get it anywhere," Toia said.

Her warning came as a new study found Covid-19 has been linked to an increased risk of shingles in New Zealanders aged over 50 by 15 percent.

That rose to 21 percent if they had been hospitalised with Covid-19.

The figures were based on a study from the US which looked at almost 2 million patients over the age of 50 who had contracted Covid-19.

New market research also found more than 70 percent of Bay of Plenty residents aged over 50 said they had little to no knowledge of the shingles virus.

Out of the more than 1.5 million cases of Covid-19 in Aotearoa, almost 400,000 of those infected are over the age of 50.

Māori also make up almost 250,000 Covid cases in the country.

Auckland University vaccinologist Dr Helen Petousis-Harris said shingles could be debilitating even for patients who were generally healthy.

"Everyone who has had chickenpox has a one in three risk of developing shingles at some stage in the future. This is because the virus remains in the body, kept at bay by the immune system. As we age it can reactivate and manifest as shingles.

"Although the NZ population is highly vaccinated, more than 100,000 Kiwis aged 50+ have reported being infected with Covid-19 which potentially puts these people at increased risk of reactivating the herpes zoster virus."

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