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Protect Yourself against Shingles: Get Vaccinated

Older Adults & Shingles

Adults age 60 years or older are more likely to—

  • get shingles
  • experience severe pain from the disease
  • have postherpetic neuralgia

You can protect yourself against shingles. Talk with your doctor about the shingles vaccine.

Shingles is also known as herpes zoster. It causes a painful, blistering skin rash that can last 2 to 4 weeks. Some people may develop severe nerve pain that can last for months or even years after the rash goes away. This is called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN. It is the most common complication of shingles. Older adults are more likely to get PHN. Shingles can lead to other serious complications, including eye problems (when shingles affects the eye). Pain from shingles has been described as excruciating, aching, burning, stabbing, and shock-like. It has been compared to the pain of childbirth or kidney stones. The pain from shingles can cause depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Also, shingles can interfere with activities of daily living, like dressing, bathing, eating, cooking, shopping, and travel.

What Causes Shingles?

Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, or VZV. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. VZV stays in your body after causing chickenpox. If you have had chickenpox in the past, then VZV is inside you. For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later and cause shingles.

How Common is Shingles?

Photo: Grandmother and granddaughterAlmost 1 out of 3 people in America will develop shingles during their lifetime. Nearly 1 million Americans experienced the condition each year. Anyone who has had chickenpox in the past can get shingles. But, older adults are more likely to get the disease. About half of all cases occur in men and women age 60 years or older.

Is Shingles Contagious?

Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. However, a person with shingles can transmit VZV to others. If a person who has never had chickenpox gets infected with VZV, he or she will develop chickenpox, not shingles.

How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Getting Shingles?

Want to Know More About Shingles?

CDC mobile app

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Click “Disease of the Week,” find shingles, and take the quiz to test your knowledge! Available on iOS, Android and Windows 8 tablets

The only way to reduce your risk of developing shingles and PHN is to get vaccinated. Adults age 60 years or older can receive a single dose of the shingles vaccine called Zostavax®. It is available by prescription from a healthcare professional. Talk with your doctor if you have questions about shingles vaccine.

Some people in this age group should wait to get vaccinated, or should not get vaccinated at all, if they have a weakened immune system. See Who Should NOT Get the Vaccine.

The shingles vaccine is approved by FDA for people age 50 years and older. However, CDC does not have a recommendation for routine use of shingles vaccine in people who are 50 through 59 years old.

More Information

  • Page last reviewed: August 5, 2013
  • Page last updated: December 13, 2013
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs