Nurse Irena Srbinovska reveals the painful truth about shingles
If you see former Bachelor Locky Gilbert around town covered in an obscene amount of bandages don’t be alarmed — they are probably just paper cuts.
Trying to fill the void left from taking a year-long break from nursing, his partner Irena Srbinovska has become a little too enthusiastic about using Gilbert as a stand-in patient.
Luckily, he will soon be let off the hook as the 2020 Bachelor winner is in the process of returning to what she believes is not just a career, but a calling.
“I’m just waiting to hear back from the hospital. I’ve taken a little bit of time off to travel and also I was just getting a little bit burnt out last year with COVID and the show and trying to manage work at the same time,” she says.
Her travels have taken her across the expansive State she now calls home, exploring “hidden gems” in WA’s far north and as far south as Denmark.
“So having that time off has been great but I am itching to get back to nursing. Poor Locky. I look after him and I bandage him, like, if he’s got a little paper cut I’m like, ‘Quick sit down, I need to look after your wounds’. I think he’s over me looking after him. I need to start looking after proper patients,” she laughs.
In the meantime the former Victorian, pictured, who relocated to Perth after finding love with Gilbert on the reality dating show, has thrown her support behind a new health campaign to raise awareness of shingles.
Shingles (herpes zoster) is an illness caused by the varicella zoster virus.
It occurs in people who have previously had chickenpox, when the virus is reactivated in the nerve tissue. People who have shingles can experience a painful, blistering rash.
It is estimated that up to one in three people risks developing shingles in their lifetime. While most recover fully, up to 25 per cent may experience long-term complications.
The Know Shingles campaign aims to raise awareness of the signs, symptoms and risk factors of this viral disease.
“I’ve had a bit to do with shingles patients in my role as a nurse and it really can be an awful disease,” Srbinovska says.
“I worked as a chronic pain nurse in Melbourne and a lot of the patients were actually shingles patients. And I remember the first time coming across it and I was like, ‘Shingles, how can a rash cause pain?’ But what people don’t realise is that something as simple as a rash can turn into pain that can last for several months.”
Symptoms can include pain, burning, numbness or tingling, sensitivity to touch. A red rash develops a few days after the pain.
Given the high prevalence of the disease, Srbinovska says the campaign is important because it’s shedding light on something that’s not really talked about, and that many Australians are unaware of.
“So, basically if shingles is left untreated, the virus itself, it affects the nerves under the skin where the rash is. And basically once those nerves get damaged, they cause chronic pain. So, that could be continuous burning pain, shooting pain, electrical pain, even sensitivity, like wearing clothing can feel really heavy on the area,” she explains.
“And that’s the sort of pain that I was treating for patients. And about a quarter of all shingles patients will develop, what we call post-herpetic neuralgia.
“So, it’s terrible. It’s very debilitating and I’ve seen people get hospitalised because of the amount of pain that they’re in.”
Srbinovska says there is also a misconception that it only affects older people.
“Obviously, the older you are, the more likely you are to develop it as your immune system drops and you’ve got other health issues. However, unfortunately, shingles doesn’t discriminate with age and anyone can get it. Children can get it.”
Infectious disease expert Professor Robert Booy believes too many Australians are still unaware of the early signs and symptoms related to herpes zoster.
“Because the virus that causes shingles comes from within the body, public health measures like social distancing or mask wearing don’t impact rates of shingles,” he says.
“However, since the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles are the same, if a person who has never had or isn’t protected against chickenpox, comes into direct contact with the blisters of someone with shingles, they may get chickenpox.
“Given our immune systems decline as we get older, I encourage all adults from around the age of 50 years to be talking to their doctor about shingles.”
In addition to her involvement in the Know Shingles campaign and returning to nursing, Srbinovska is keeping herself busy househunting with Gilbert.
“I’m very much settled here. I’ve got a couple of my friends from Melbourne that have moved here as well. So I’ve got some friends here, making some new friends, I’ve got my little Bachelor family as well here. So I’m very well supported,” she says.
“Locky’s family and friends have been amazing welcoming me into Perth. So yeah, this is going to be our forever home and we’re currently househunting in South Perth at the moment.”
Did you know?
- Shingles is most common in people over 50, those with a weakened immune system, and those who had chickenpox in the first year of life.
- Up to 99.5 per cent of adults 50 years of age and older already have the virus that can cause shingles inside them.
- Up to one in three people risks developing shingles in their lifetime.
- Reactivation of the varicella zoster virus can cause shingles, regardless of how healthy a person may feel.
- Shingles typically produces a painful and blistering rash, erupting in a stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or right side of the torso, along a nerve path.
- It can develop on the torso, arms, thighs, or head (including in the eyes or ears). The most common places are the chest and abdomen.
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