What Is Herpes Zoster?

Herpes zoster, also known as shingles, is a viral infection. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox in children. After a child has recovered from chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the body. The virus can be stimulated later in life, typically at age 60 and older. It is revived as the shingles virus.

The virus re-emerges as shingles for unknown reasons. Suspected causes include stress or a weakened immune system. It is typically only revived once with only one bout of symptoms. More than one episode can occur. It is a common illness in the US.

The virus that causes shingles can be spread to people who have not yet had chickenpox. These people would get chickenpox, not shingles.

The most common symptoms of shingles include:

  • Painful, itchy skin that turns into a rash
  • A rash of red, painful blisters
  • Rash often occurs only on one side of the body
  • Blisters that break open, then scab over
  • Fever, headache, chills
  • Abdominal discomfort

Shingles and its symptoms typically get better over time. Medicine may be given to reduce pain. Antiviral medicines, like acyclovir, may be given to help the symptoms go away faster.

Possible complications include blindness, deafness, paralysis of the face, loss of taste, or infection. While rare, nerve pain may last for years.

What Is Herpes Zoster Vaccine?

This vaccine is a live, weakened form of the chickenpox virus. It is given as a shot under the skin.

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

Adults aged 60 and older may need the vaccine. One dose is typically given.

What Are the Risks Associated With the Herpes Zoster Vaccine?

  • Common, minor side effects: fever and local soreness
  • Less common, moderate side effects: red skin, swelling, or itching at the injection site, headache
  • Severe complications: anaphylaxis

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

You should not get the vaccine if you:

What Other Ways Can Shingles Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?

If you have never had chickenpox, you cannot get shingles. However, you may be stricken with a severe case of chickenpox. If you had chickenpox, you are at risk for shingles. This is because the virus stays in your body. Getting the vaccine can reduce your risk.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

Shingles can be passed to others. It causes chickenpox in people who have not had the disease or the vaccine. These people should get the chickenpox vaccine.