Herpes zoster, also known as shingles, is a viral infection. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has recovered from chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in the body. The virus can be activated later in life, returning as shingles. This typically occurs in people aged 50 years and older.
The virus returns for unknown reasons. Some causes may include stress or a weakened immune system. Typically, it returns one time with only one episode of symptoms. However, more than one episode can occur. It is a common illness in the United States.
The virus that causes shingles can be spread to people who have not had chickenpox. These people would get chickenpox, not shingles.
The most common symptoms of shingles include:
Shingles and its symptoms typically get better over time. Antiviral medications may be given to help the symptoms go away faster.
Possible complications include long-term nerve pain. Other complications are lesson common, but serious, such as blindness, deafness, brain inflammation, and death.
This vaccine is a live, weakened form of the varicella zoster virus. It is given as a shot under the skin.
The vaccine is licensed for adults aged 50 years and older. One dose is typically given.
You should not get the vaccine if you:
You cannot get shingles if you have never had chickenpox. However, you may get a severe case of chickenpox. If you had chickenpox, you are at risk for shingles. Getting the vaccine can reduce your risk.
During a shingles outbreak, varicella zoster virus can be spread to people who have not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. People who have not had chickenpox should get the chickenpox vaccine.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
American Academy of Dermatology
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
About shingles (herpes zoster). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/index.html. Updated May 1, 2014. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Herpes zoster. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 26, 2014. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Shingles vaccine: What you need to know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/shingles.pdf. Updated October 6, 2009. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Tseng HF, Liu A, Sy L, et al. Safety of zoster vaccine in adults from a large managed care cohort: a vaccine safety datalink study. J Intern Med. 2012;271(5):510-520.
Tseng HF, Smith N, Sy LS, Jacobsen SJ. Evaluation of the incidence of herpes zoster after concomitant administration of zoster vaccine and polysaccharide pneumococcal vaccine. Vaccine. 2011;29(20):3628-3632.
Varicella and zoster vaccines. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 8, 2014. Accessed November 4, 2014.
Last reviewed November 2015 by David L. Horn, MD Last Updated: 12/20/2014