Older Australians urged to take health more seriously

September 2017

New research has found that almost half of our Australians in their 70s are not looking after their health.1 The research found 60% admit to not eating a balanced diet,1 over half (52%) are drinking more alcohol than recommended,1 almost half (49%) are not maintaining an active lifestyle,1 and 70% remain unaware they are at risk of serious conditions like shingles.1 These figures are in contrast with 87% of this group believing they are actually doing their best to take care of themselves.1 Additionally, just under half of this group (46%) prioritise the importance of the health of other family members over their own personal health.1

Patti Newton, well-loved Australian in her 70s, and someone who has experienced the pain and debilitating nature of shingles first hand, commented on the findings, “this new research shows that older Australians need to get better at protecting our health and making sure we are a bit more selfish when it comes to our own health. As a mum and grandmother, I need to make sure I stay fit and healthy so I can be there for my family and maximise my quality of life. It’s important that we speak to our doctors about how we can protect our health, especially from shingles.”

The research uncovered that over a quarter (27%) of 70-79 year old Australians have had shingles,1 a condition not only more common over the age of 70, but with an increased chance of complications at this age.2 The research also showed that over a third of our 70-79 year olds are not aware that shingles may be treated and prevented and 40% of Australians aged 70-79 are not aware that there are Government funded shingles prevention and treatment options.1 

ZOSTAVAX® [(Zoster Virus Vaccine Live Oka/Merck)] is free for eligible 70-79 year olds on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) to help protect them against shingles and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).3,4 Geriatrician Associate Professor Michael Woodward AM said “This is a timely reminder to healthcare professionals that the zoster vaccine is available for 70 year olds with a five year catch up program for 71-79 year olds." 3,4

The Government’s investment in the zoster vaccine on the NIP is recognition of the significant impact shingles and postherpetic neuralgia can have on older Australians and the importance of keeping our older Australians healthy and active in our communities.” Shingles can strike at any time. There is no way to predict who will develop shingles, or when, or how severe it will be.2 The chance of developing shingles, along with the risk of complications, increase with age, particularly over the age of 70.2,3 One in three may develop shingles in their lifetime.3,5

“This new consumer research is concerning as it shows that not only do many of our older Australians misunderstand what they need to do to protect their health, despite their best efforts, they are getting some of the basics wrong. They are also putting others ahead of their own health, potentially exposing themselves and others to illness. Additionally, although they are seeing their GP regularly, they are still not aware of conditions such as shingles and the availability of the shingles vaccine,” concluded A/Prof Michael Woodward. 

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus lays dormant in the nerves and can reactivate at any time, most commonly in older age, causing shingles.2,6 It is characterised by a blistering rash which appears as a band or belt on one side of the body,2,5 however shingles is not just a rash. Some people affected by shingles also experience severe, chronic and debilitating nerve pain, that can last for months or even years, known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).3,5

PBS information: This product is listed on the National Immunisation Program (NIP). Refer to NIP Schedule. Before prescribing, please review the Product Information, available from Seqirus Medical Information on 1800 642 865 or www.Seqirus.com.au/PI 

Minimum product information

ZOSTAVAX® Zoster virus vaccine live (Oka/Merck), refrigerator stable
Indications: Prevention of herpes zoster (shingles) in individuals 50 years of age and older. Prevention of postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) and reduction of acute and chronic zoster-associated pain in individuals 60 years of age and older. 

Contraindications: History of hypersensitivity to any component of the vaccine, including gelatin. History of anaphylactic/anaphylactoid reaction to neomycin. Primary and acquired immunodeficiency states due to conditions such as: acute and chronic leukaemias; lymphoma; other conditions affecting the bone marrow or lymphatic system; immunosuppression due to HIV/AIDS; cellular immune deficiencies. Immunosuppressive therapy including high-dose corticosteroids, but not topical/inhaled corticosteroids. ZOSTAVAX is a live, attenuated varicella-zoster vaccine and administration to individuals who are immunosuppressed or immunodeficient may result in disseminated varicella-zoster virus disease, including fatal outcomes. Active untreated tuberculosis. Pregnancy (see PRECAUTIONS).

Precautions: Adequate treatment provisions, including adrenalin injection (1:1000), should be available for immediate use should an anaphylactic/anaphylactoid reaction occur. Consider deferral of vaccination in the presence of fever >38.5°C. Safety and efficacy not established in adults known to be infected with HIV. Use in pregnancy (Category B2) Do not administer to pregnant females; pregnancy should be avoided for 3 months after vaccination. Use in lactation It is not known whether varicella-zoster virus is secreted in human milk. Use in the elderly The mean age of subjects enrolled in the largest (N=38,546) clinical study of ZOSTAVAX was 69 years (range 59-99 years). ZOSTAVAX was demonstrated to be generally safe and effective in this population. Interactions with other medicines: ZOSTAVAX can be administered concurrently with inactivated influenza vaccine. ZOSTAVAX and PNEUMOVAX 23 should not be given concomitantly because concomitant use resulted in reduced immunogenicity of ZOSTAVAX. Consider administration of the two vaccines separated by at least 4 weeks. 

Adverse Effects: headache, erythema, pain/tenderness, swelling, pruritus, fatigue, haematoma, warmth, induration, pain in extremity. Post-marketing experience: varicella, zoster, nausea, arthralgia, myalgia, injection-site rash, injection-site urticaria, pyrexia, transient injection-site lymphadenopathy, hypersensitivity including anaphylactic reactions, rash, necrotizing retinitis.

Dosage and Administration: A single dose (0.65mL) administered subcutaneously. Administer vaccine immediately after reconstitution to minimise loss of potency. ZOSTAVAX is not a treatment for zoster or PHN.

Based on Approved Product Information dated 17 August 2017. 

Seqirus (Australia) Pty Ltd ABN: 66 120 398 067, 63 Poplar Road Parkville, Victoria 3052 www.seqirus.com.au; distributor for Merck, Sharp and Dohme (Australia) Pty Ltd. Seqirus Medical Information: 1800 624 865. ZOSTAVAX® is a registered trademark of Merck & Co. Inc Whitehouse Station, NJ, USA. Seqirus™ is a trademark of Seqirus UK Limited or its affiliates.

1. Seqirus Data on File. Galaxy Consumer Research. June 2017
2. NCIRS Herpes Zoster Factsheet August 2017 http://www.ncirs.edu.au/assets/provider_resources/fact-sheets/zoster-vaccine-fact-sheet.pdf Accessed August 2017.
3. Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). The Australian immunisation handbook 10th ed (2017 update). Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health, 2017
4. ZOSTAVAX® Approved Product Information, Amended August 2017.
5. Harpaz R et al. Prevention of Herpes Zoster. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices (ACIP) MMRW 2008 Jun 6;57 (RR-5):1-30.
6. Stein A N. et al. 2009. Herpes zoster burden of illness and health care resource utilisation in the Australian population aged 50 years and older. Vaccine. Vol 27, pp. 520-29.



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