Global GSK Shingles Survey Insights

Shingles misconceptions: new global survey commissioned and funded by GSK highlights widespread misunderstandings on shingles among over 50s


Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox, which remains dormant in the body and can reactivate later in life to cause shingles.1, 2 The disease usually causes a painful skin rash, and its pain is often described as aching, burning, stabbing or shock-like.1

However, a new global survey commissioned and funded by GSK shows that many adults aged 50 and over, a group at risk of developing shingles, do not understand how shingles may be triggered.3

The global research surveyed 3,500 adults aged 50 and over, from 12 countries, to uncover how much people know about shingles, what may trigger it, and what impact it can have on people’s lives.3

The results uncovered:

  1. 55% of respondents believe that “you can catch shingles from someone with shingles”3

Shingles cannot be transmitted from person to person like other airborne diseases such as COVID-19. In fact, shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox.2 This virus remains dormant within the body, specifically in the nervous system, and can reactivate with advancing age, as the immune system becomes less effective in protecting us from diseases.1,2

  1. Nearly 50% of respondents believe that “you can catch shingles from someone with chickenpox”3

Shingles is caused by VZV.2 If a person has never had chickenpox before, the virus could cause chickenpox.4 Once chickenpox has healed, the virus will then remain dormant within the nervous system and may develop as shingles with advancing age.1, 2

  1. 39% of respondents believe that “you can’t develop shingles if you’ve already had shingles”3

By age 50, VZV is present in most adults.2 The majority of people who develop shingles only have it once; however, it is possible to develop shingles more than once in a lifetime.4

Globally, up to 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetime.1, 5-8 Yet the global Shingles Misconceptions survey highlighted misconceptions surrounding shingles risks and prevalence, revealing that:

86% of adults surveyed significantly underestimate or don’t know about the risks of shingles and its potential severity,3 and:

    1. Over a quarter (26%) of those surveyed estimated that 1 in 100 are at risk of shingles in their lifetime,3
    2. Almost a fifth (17%) believe it is 1 in 10003
    3. Almost half (49%) of those surveyed believe they are unlikely to develop shingles3

The survey results also show a lack of awareness of the symptoms of shingles, and the pain and life disruption it can cause. The disease typically presents as a rash, with painful blisters across the chest, abdomen or face,9 and is often described as aching, burning, stabbing or shock-like.1 Despite this, 1 in 10 adults surveyed reported that they don’t know the most common symptoms of shingles,3 and over a quarter (28%) believe shingles is “essentially harmless”.3

Such underestimation and misunderstanding of the pain shingles may cause could not be further from reality. For some, shingles can be an isolating and painful experience;10, 11 and people with shingles may experience a decrease in their quality of life when they are experiencing the acute phase of the disease, which can last for several weeks and can impact their ability to participate in daily activities including work, hobbies, sleep and social interactions.5, 11

“The pain was so excruciating, I would describe the pain as 8 on the scale of 1 to 10, going up to 9 then back to 10. The pain and discomfort coupled with the itchiness, it was unbearable, I cannot forget the feeling. I was really feeling scared and lonely.” – Mr. Lee, a patient who shared his experience during Shingles Awareness Week 2024.



It’s clear more awareness is needed when it comes to shingles. Data from the survey also emphasised trends regarding where people source their health-related information:3

    1. Of those surveyed, 90% say they would use internet search engines like Google to source health-related information3
    2. Over 40% of adults in this age group regularly turn to social media such as Facebook and Instagram for questions about their health3
    3. While nearly a third consult Google at least once a week for such information3

Shingles can have a significant impact on people’s lives, causing not only physical pain, but also emotional distress and reduced quality of life.1, 5

These findings underline the need for people to seek advice from healthcare professionals to understand and reduce their risk of developing shingles. The global survey results clearly highlight the work needed in ensuring people have access to accurate health information.

If you are concerned about shingles, seek the advice of a healthcare professional to understand how shingles develops, and who is at risk.


Content Lab: NP-GBL-ABX-WCNT-240001
Date of Preparation: January 2024
© 2023 GSK group of companies or its licensor
GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals SA. Rixensart, Belgium



  1. Harpaz, R., et al. Prevention of herpes zoster: recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR Recomm Rep 2008;57(Rr-5):1-30; .
  2. Johnson, R.W., et al. Herpes zoster epidemiology, management, and disease and economic burden in Europe: a multidisciplinary perspective. Therapeutic advances in vaccines. 2015;3(4):109-20.
  3. Pollfish on behalf of GSK. Shingles Misconceptions Survey (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea, United Kingdom, United States). Data on file. 2023.
  4. Shingles: Cause and Transmission. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). [Available from: Last Accessed: November 2023]
  5. Curran, D., et al. Healthy ageing: Herpes zoster infection and the role of zoster vaccination. NPJ Vaccines. 2023;8.
  6. Shingles in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [Available from: Last Accessed: November 2023]
  7. Curran, D., et al. Meta-Regression of Herpes Zoster Incidence Worldwide. Infectious diseases and therapy. 2022;11(1):389-403.
  8. Lee, C., et al. Lifetime risk of herpes zoster in the population of Beijing, China. Public health in practice (Oxford, England). 2023;5:100356.
  9. Mueller, N.H., et al. Varicella zoster virus infection: clinical features, molecular pathogenesis of disease, and latency. Neurologic clinics. 2008;26(3):675-97.
  10. van Oorschot, D.A.M., et al. A Cross-Sectional Concept Elicitation Study to Understand the Impact of Herpes Zoster on Patients’ Health-Related Quality of Life. Infectious diseases and therapy. 2022;11:501 – 16.
  11. Gater, A., et al. The humanistic, economic and societal burden of herpes zoster in Europe: a critical review. BMC public health. 2015;15:193.