Poll: Adults plan to take steps to avoid flu but not other preventable diseases

Survey reinforces need for healthcare professionals, patients to discuss shingles

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. — Flu is at the top of the list of diseases older adults plan to ask about, according to results from a new Harris Interactive consumer awareness survey, sponsored by Merck. Most of the more than 600 surveyed adults age 60 years and older are at least somewhat likely to ask their healthcare professional about preventing the flu this year, and are significantly more likely to ask about this than prevention of such other potentially serious diseases as shingles.

Shingles, the common name for herpes zoster, is a disease caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once a person has chickenpox, the virus never leaves the body. At some point later in life this virus can reactivate and erupt as shingles — a red blistering rash that can be very painful. Any person who has had chickenpox is at risk for developing shingles, and 98% of adults in the United States have had chickenpox. A person’s risk for shingles increases as they get older, even if they are healthy. There are approximately 1 million cases of shingles each year in the United States, and the CDC estimates that one-in-three people will get shingles during their lifetime.

The survey also revealed the importance of physicians and pharmacists in encouraging vaccination. The survey indicated that 79% of older adults would be at least somewhat likely to receive the shingles vaccine if it were recommended by their doctor or pharmacist. Adults ages 60 years and older were 58% more likely to receive the shingles vaccine if recommended by their healthcare professional than to ask for the vaccine proactively (79% vs. 50%, respectively).

“It is important for people ages 60 [years] and older to get the shingles vaccine because it is the only way to help reduce the risk of getting shingles, but vaccination rates for shingles remain well below those for other adult vaccines against flu or pneumococcal disease,” said Eddy Bresnitz, executive director global medical affairs and policy in Merck's vaccines division. “The results from this poll are a clear call to action for healthcare providers. It is important that a conversation about shingles takes place with their patients, both about the disease and vaccination against it.”

Merck's shingles vaccine, Zostavax, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for adults ages 50 years and older to help prevent shingles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults ages 60 years and older get vaccinated to help prevent shingles. 

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