Almost 1 out of 3 people in America will develop shingles during their lifetime. Your risk of shingles increases as you get older. People 60 years of age or older should get vaccinated against this painful disease.
Shingles is also known as herpes zoster. It causes a painful, blistering skin rash that can last 2 to 4 weeks. For some people, the pain 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. The risk of shingles and PHN increases as a person gets older.
People have described pain from shingles as excruciating, aching, burning, stabbing, and shock-like. It has been compared to the pain of childbirth or kidney stones. This pain can cause depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Shingles can interfere with activities of daily living like dressing, bathing, eating, cooking, shopping, and travel. Shingles can lead to other serious complications, including eye complications that can result in vision loss.
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 or pharmacist about the shingles vaccine.
What Causes Shingles?
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in the body. For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later and cause shingles.
How Common is Shingles?
Almost 1 out of 3 people in America will develop shingles during their lifetime. Nearly 1 million Americans experience the condition each year. As you get older, you are more likely to get the disease. About half of all shingles cases occur in people 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. A person who gets infected with VZV for the first time will develop chickenpox, not shingles.
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How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Getting Shingles?
Vaccination is the only way to reduce your risk of shingles and PHN. CDC recommends adults age 60 years or older receive a single dose of shingles vaccine. Zostavax® is the only shingles vaccine currently available. It is available by prescription from a healthcare professional. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about shingles vaccine.
People who have a weakened immune system may have to wait to get vaccinated, or should not get vaccinated at all. See Who Should NOT Get the Vaccine.
CDC does not have a recommendation for routine use of shingles vaccine in people 50 through 59 years old. However, the vaccine is approved by FDA for people 50 and older.
- About Shingles
- Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Vaccination
- Shingles Vaccine Information Sheet
- Podcast: Herpes Zoster: Who's at Risk and Who Should be Vaccinated [4:35 minutes]
- Prevention of Herpes Zoster: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) (15 May 2008/57 (Early Release);1-30).
- Page last reviewed: August 25, 2014
- Page last updated: August 25, 2014
- Content source:
- National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs