Eamonn Holmes on his ‘nightmare’ shingles and awareness campaign

After what he described as living a ‘nightmare’ and looking like he had been ‘assaulted’ from a virus, TV presenter Eamonn Holmes has called for more awareness of shingles. 

Three years ago, Holmes woke one morning in incredible pain, his face covered in blisters that caused intense stabbing pains and itching. 

A visit to the doctor confirmed that Holmes had contracted shingles – a virus he thought to only be associated with women – leaving him temporarily unable to work and affecting his confidence as the face of British breakfast television. 

But the fact is that anyone over 50 who has had chicken pox is 90 percent likely to carry the virus for shingles – the risk and severity increasing with age due to a decline in immunity. 

“I wasn’t in the slightest aware of shingles before I had it,” said Holmes, who has teamed up with GSK to raise awareness of shingles as part of the Understanding Shingles campaign, which is also being supported by the Shingles Support Society.  

“It wasn’t on my radar – I thought it was something that happened to women after they had children, dealing with the stress of pregnancy and the stress of bringing up a child. I didn’t think it would affect me. 

“I do suffer from cold sores, so I thought that was what it was but all over my face. It spread all over – I looked like I’d been assaulted. It was horrendous. It was in my eyebrows, my forehead, round my eyes – it was a nightmare. 

“I didn’t even know I’d had chicken pox – I had to phone my mother who’s in her 90s and ask her.  

“What I would say to people is that it’s not something you want to get, no matter where it is on your body.

“And this campaign is just about awareness and knowing if you are susceptible and knowing what to do about it.” 

Hillingdon Times:

Alongside GSK, Holmes is on a quest to raise awareness of shingles as part of the Understanding Shingles campaign, which GSK funds.

One in four people will get shingles in their lifetime and Holmes wants to make people aware of the signs of it and the misconceptions of it. 

He said:  “I was on very heavy antibiotics to treat it but it was scary.

“People have this fear that it is contagious – they don’t want to go near you – but it isn’t contagious at all. 

“There’s never a right time to get these things, but this was definitely the wrong time.  

“My child was getting married so it was a big thing in the family and I was father of the groom.  

“It was bad because people spent the whole time asking ‘what’s wrong with you? What happened to you?’ and it was my son’s day and everyone was talking about me. I felt disappointed for him.  

“I had to put a bit of make up on top of it to try and cover it up but people could still see it.  

“I can’t really look at the wedding photos. I’m standing beside my son, Declan, and I thought ‘he deserved better than that from me’.” 

Hillingdon Times:

A recent GSK-sponsored survey, revealed one of more than 2000 UK adults, demonstrated some significant gaps in understanding of shingles.

Knowledge of the symptoms, disease and risk factors tended to be higher in older respondents, yet many of those surveyed did not know basic facts about shingles.

Of the people surveyed, only 65% correctly identified shingles as a rash caused by a virus and only 55% associated shingles with pain in an area of the skin, which is one of the most common symptoms.

Shingles is a painful rash caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox (varicella zoster) virus.

In the UK, 90% of adults have had chickenpox so will have this virus dormant in their nervous system.

Yet of all survey participants, only 60% knew that having had chickenpox puts you at risk of shingles.

The risk and severity of shingles increases with age due to a natural decline in immunity as we get older, particularly in those aged 50 years and above.

At the time of his shingles, Holmes was taking the HMRC to court over a £250,000 tax bill he received, with stress known to be one of the factors that can cause the virus to occur from its dormant state. 

Holmes added: “The court case was horrible. Outside my father dying from sudden death, it was the most harrowing experience of my life. 

“In addition, for a living, people look at me, so of course having shingles knocked my confidence.  

“I think the thing that really worried me was whether something would happen to my eyesight – that’s the big warning associated with it. 

“It was the fear around it. Not knowing when it was going to end because every day there was a new blister. How’s it going to end? When will it all be over? It was painful.  

“There was a desire to scratch and itch which, of course, you couldn’t do. It was just awful – an absolute nightmare.” 

Understanding Shingles is a new campaign supported by Eammon Holmes together with GSK and the Shingles Support Society. For more information visit www.understandingshingles.co.uk

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