Shingles causes a painful, blistering skin rash. Almost 1 out of 3 people in the United States will develop shingles during their lifetime. Your risk of shingles increases as you get older. Shingles vaccine protects against this painful disease.
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, causes a painful, blistering skin rash that can last two to four weeks. For some people, the pain can last for months or even years after the rash goes away. This pain is called postherpetic neuralgia or PHN. It is the most common complication of shingles. The risk of shingles and PHN increases as you get 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 may also lead to 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 eye complications that can result in vision loss.
Older Adults & Shingles
As you get older, you 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 one out of three 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.
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.
Disease of the Week
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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 that healthy adults age 50 years and older receive two doses of a new shingles vaccine called Shingrix®. Shingrix provides strong protection, and is the preferred vaccine over Zostavax®. Learn more about Shingrix.
CDC still recommends Zostavax for healthy adults 60 years and older to prevent shingles. This shingles vaccine may be used in certain cases, such as when a person is allergic to Shingrix or prefers Zostavax. You can learn more about Zostavax here.
Shingles vaccines are available in doctor’s offices and pharmacies. To find doctor’s offices or pharmacies near you that offer the vaccines, visit HealthMap Vaccine Finder.
- Page last reviewed: January 25, 2018
- Page last updated: January 25, 2018
- Content source:
- National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, Division of Viral Diseases
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs