Shingles: The chronic pain Bachelor winner Irena wants you to know about

Irena Srbinovska has first-hand experience of shingles. She’s joined a high-profile campaign to raise awareness of one of Australia’s fastest-growing diseases.

Shingles is a painful viral infection that often appears as a line of blisters on either side of your torso.

If you’ve had chickenpox it’s the same virus and can re-emerge as shingles years later.

Bachelor 2020 winner Irena Srbinovska says her time as an acute pain nurse opened her eyes to the long-term and chronic pain that can come from shingles.

“Everyone knows it as a rash but shingles can do so much damage to the nerves under the skin,” says the 31-year-old, who has recently joined the Know Shingles campaign.

“That can lead to shooting pain, which can last for months and is very difficult to treat.”

Still blissfully happy with boyfriend Locky Gilbert, Irena says she’s had a whirlwind year since winning the reality TV show, including eight months spent travelling around Australia.

“Locky and I suffered a miscarriage, which was really hard, and so we packed the car and took off, which was just what we needed,” she says.

Resisting the lure of life as an influencer, the self-confessed “normal girl” is now moving back into nursing and with dreams of marriage and a family on the cards is excited to be settling into “relaxed and chilled” Perth after relocating from Melbourne to be with Locky.

“We’re looking for our forever home in south Perth,” she smiles.

“The Bachelor changed the course of my life and I was so happy to do the show but I’m a very normal person and so I want to use my profile to get behind campaigns I believe in,” she says.

“There’s a bit of a stigma around shingles but it’s so common — one in three people is likely to get it, so people need to know the signs and symptoms and risk factors.”

So, what exactly is shingles?

Shingles (also called herpes zoster) is triggered by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus during adulthood and typically produces a painful, blistering rash.

Infectious disease physician and clinical virologist Professor Tony Cunningham says the pain associated with shingles is often described as burning, shooting or stabbing.

“The acute pain can last for between two to four weeks, with some people potentially experiencing complications and chronic pain for months,” Prof Cunningham says.

Roz Bentley, a retired education psychologist from Sydney, knows only too well how excruciating that pain can be, suffering two bouts of shingles before getting vaccinated.

The second, which occurred while she was travelling in South America with husband Don, saw Roz bed-ridden for six weeks.

“It felt like every nerve was on fire, it really scared me,” the 71-year-old says.

Who is at risk of shingles and what are the symptoms?

Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles.

It’s estimated one in three people who haven’t been immunised against chickenpox or shingles will get the disease in their lifetime, with 97 per cent of adults over 50 already estimated to be carrying the virus.

A study published in the journal Plos One found the incidence is rising, with about 122,000 estimated new cases of shingles occurring in Australia each year.

The risk of shingles increases with age and is most common in those who are immunocompromised or aged 50 and older.

Symptoms include a tingling or burning sensation on the skin, followed by a blistering rash, as well as headaches, tiredness, and discomfort when looking at bright lights.

How can I prevent shingles?

While vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect against the disease in most people, infectious disease expert Prof Robert Booy says too many Australians are still unaware of the early signs and symptoms.

“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,” Prof Booy says.

Adds Irena: “I had chickenpox as a child so I’m at risk of a shingles outbreak later in life just like the vast majority of the Australian population.

“It’s definitely a disease worth talking to your doctor about.”

* For more information about shingles, speak to your healthcare professional and visit

Written by Liz McGrath.