Shingles

[ˈshiŋ-gəlz]

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Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful rash disease. Shingles can lead to severe nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) that can last for months or years after the rash goes away. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus—the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you’ve ever had chickenpox, you can get shingles. Almost 1 out of 3 people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime. You can get shingles at any age, but it’s more common in older adults. Older adults also are more likely to have severe disease. CDC recommends that people age 50 and older get the shingles vaccine called Shingrix.

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Key Facts

  • Shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus called varicella zoster virus.
  • An estimated 1 million people get shingles each year in the United States.
  • Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, and you can get shingles at any age.
  • Your risk of getting shingles and having more severe pain increases as you get older.
  • CDC recommends people age 50 and older get two doses of the shingles vaccine Shingrix, separated by 2 to 6 months, to protect against shingles and its complications.

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Shingle symptoms
How the Disease Starts

First, a person may have pain, itching, or tingling in one area of the body. About 1 to 5 days later, a rash will appear in that area. The rash consists of blisters that usually scab over in 7 to 10 days and clear up in 2 to 4 weeks. The rash is usually limited to one side of the body. Shingles can also cause fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach.

Grandfather and grandson
The Link to Chickenpox

Shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus. It is called varicella zoster virus. Once you’ve had chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. Years later, the virus can reactivate and cause shingles.

Grandmother, mother and baby
How the Virus Spreads

The varicella zoster virus can be found in the blisters caused by shingles. If you have direct contact with the blister fluid, you can get infected with the virus. A person with shingles can spread the virus that causes this disease to others who don’t have immunity (protection) against the virus. If they get infected, they will develop chickenpox, not shingles.

Doctor and woman
Shingles Can Be Severe

Some people develop severe nerve pain that can last for months or years after the shingles rash goes away. This is called postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN. It’s the most common complication of shingles. Shingles may also lead to serious eye problems, pneumonia, hearing loss, blindness, brain inflammation, or death.

Mature adults playing cards
People at Higher Risk

Your risk of shingles increases as you age. Older adults are also more likely to suffer from severe nerve pain that can last for months or years after the shingles rash goes away. People who have compromised immune systems, caused by certain cancers, infections, or drugs, are also at higher risk of getting shingles.

Prevention Tips

  • The shingles vaccine Shingrix is available in pharmacies and doctors’ offices. Learn more about Shingrix, and talk with your healthcare provider if you have questions.
  • People who have previously had shingles or received an older shingles vaccine called Zostavax* should still get Shingrix to help prevent future occurrences of the disease.
  • People who have a weakened immune system should talk to their healthcare provider to see if it is safe for them to get the shingles vaccine.
  • If you have shingles, don’t touch the rash, and keep it covered. Until the rash crusts over, stay away from pregnant women who aren’t protected against chickenpox, premature infants, and people with weakened immune systems.

*Zostavax is no longer being sold in the United States. Some pharmacies and clinics may still have Zostavax in stock. This vaccine is safe and may be used until the supply expires before or by November 18, 2020.

More at CDC.gov

Page last reviewed: October 5, 2020