This year, GSK and the International Federation on Aging (IFA) have collaborated to launch the inaugural Shingles Awareness Week. Why? Because most Americans do not know much about the disease. This is a mistake that must be addressed. And this is true of many “silent diseases." Examples are conditions such as pancreatic cancer, shingles, hepatitis B, and Lyme disease. The negative outcomes of these silent diseases can be addressed, and in many cases overcome, with proper attention. But unfortunately, most Americans do not know what to do to about these conditions until it is too late.
Who Suffers from the "Silent Diseases?"
Consider the statistics: 1 in 3 Americans over the age of 50 suffer from shingles. As many as 2.2 million suffer from hepatitis B. And each year approximately 476,000 are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease. Each of these diseases can have ongoing and terrible consequences.
Nearly every American is at risk of getting shingles. Symptoms of the disease are appalling: fluid-filled blisters, burning, shooting pain, tingling, itching or numbness of the skin, chills, fever, headache, upset stomach, facial paralysis, problems with hearing and balance, and even loss of eyesight. While not the same, the potential consequences of hepatitis B and Lyme disease are also serious.
Is There A Solution?
Clearly, there must be a desire to avoid these outcomes. In fact, solutions are readily available to patients. Vaccines can be used to avoid hepatitis B (such as Recombivax HB) and shingles (#Shingrix). Lyme infections should receive immediate treatment with antibiotics. If these measure are taken, the patient will either avoid the condition entirely or the symptoms will be greatly reduced.
However, these actions generally depend on patient awareness. Unfortunately, this is where a serious problem exists. Over 60% of the older population do not know they are at risk of getting shingles. Only 37% know about the risk of getting hepatitis B. And less than half of patients who are treated remember the tick bite or the rash that they must have experienced prior to diagnosis with Lyme disease.
How Does Patient Education Work?
Because these are “silent diseases,” patients often do not experience symptoms until progression cannot be stopped. While the medical community will play a role in developing this awareness, patient awareness campaigns are vital to help patients spot symptoms early. Disease awareness months (which are sponsored for many important “silent diseases”) will help to build this awareness.
As part of its effort, GSK (maker of #Shingrix to treat shingles) is using a multi-media approach to catch the attention of the population. A video is designed to initiate interest in the vaccine. It candidly points out that, “No matter how healthy you feel, your risk of shingles increases sharply after the age of 50.” Translation: everybody is at risk. Go out and get vaccinated. It takes 15 minutes and it is 90% effective.
Consider the case of people who carry the HPV virus. An estimated 80% of people who have been sexually active carry this virus, which can lead to serious forms of cancer that can kill the patient. Again, simple vaccinations (Gardasil 9) taken early in life can prevent these cancers and save lives.
We don't think the problem is stupidity or that people are stubborn. Most people will get vaccinated if they understand the benefits. The key issue is awareness. That is where the work begins. We applaud the Pharma companies that are helping patients understand how they can avoid these serious health issues.