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Protect Yourself against Shingles: Get Vaccinated



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).

Older Adults & Shingles

Adults age 60 years or older are more likely to

  • get shingles
  • experience severe pain from the disease, and also
  • have postherpetic neuralgia.

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

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. 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 (VZV). This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you have had chickenpox in the past, then VZV is inside you. It never leaves your body and stays in a dormant state. 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. 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.


Photo: Doctor consulting with senior female patient

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.

It’s a good idea to cover the rash and wash your hands often if you have shingles. Learn more about shingles transmission.

How Can You Reduce Your Risk of Getting Shingles?

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

Shingles vaccine is available in pharmacies and doctor’s offices. Talk with your healthcare professional if you have questions about shingles vaccine.

At this time, CDC does not have a recommendation for routine use of shingles vaccine in people 50 through 59 years of age. However, the vaccine is approved by the FDA for this age group.

More Information


Last syndicated: November 20, 2012
This content is brought to you by: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)