What Is Herpes Zoster?
Herpes zoster is a viral infection of the nerves and skin. It is also known as shingles. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus lies inactive in the body after a person recovers from chickenpox. It can reactivate later in life as shingles. It is not known why this happens.
The virus that causes shingles can be spread to people who have not had chickenpox. These people would get chickenpox, not shingles.
A person may have skin pain, itching, and tingling before these symptoms occur:
- A painful red rash on one side of the face or body
- Blisters that break open and scab over
- Fever and chills
- Stomach pain
- Sensitivity to light
Most people get better in about a month. Older adults may have lasting nerve pain.
What Is the Herpes Zoster Vaccine?
This vaccine is made of inactivated varicella zoster virus. It is given as a shot under the skin in 2 doses that are 2 to 6 months apart.
Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?
The vaccine is given to people who are 50 years of age and older.
What Are the Risks Associated With the Herpes Zoster Vaccine?
Common problems are:
- A sore arm
- Redness and swelling at the site of the shot
- Fever and chills
- Belly pain
- Muscle pain
Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?
You should not get the vaccine if you:
- Have serious immune problems
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Currently have shingles
- Have had a severe allergic reaction to a prior dose of the vaccine
- Have life-threatening allergies
What Other Ways Can Shingles Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?
You cannot get shingles if you have never had chickenpox. However, you may get a severe case of chickenpox.
What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?
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
Herpes zoster. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/herpes-zoster. Accessed July 8, 2021.
Recombinant zoster (shingles) vaccine: What you need to know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/shingles-recombinant.pdf. Accessed July 8, 2021.
Shingles (herpes zoster). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/index.html. Accessed July 8, 2021.
Zoster vaccine recombinant, adjuvanted. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/drug-monograph/zoster-vaccine-recombinant-adjuvanted. Accessed July 8, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP