Can you get shingles from the flu shot?The short answer is no.
The longer answer is below, and will help you filter through the information and misinformation you might have heard about a possible connection between shingles and the flu shot.
Facts about the Flu and the Flu Shot
Health Canada describes influenza as a viral infection that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, it is estimated that between 1976 and 2007 the number of those who caught the flu ranged between a low of 3,000 to a high of 49,000 people.
During a normal flu season (October to May) 90 percent of deaths associated with the flu occur in people aged 65 years and over.(1)
The traditional flu vaccine protects against two influenza A viruses – the human H1N1 strain and the H3N2 strain – and one influenza B virus. The vaccines contain an inert version of the virus so that you don’t get the symptoms or pass the virus to others. However, your body develops antibodies towards those strains, giving most people complete immunity from those virus strains.
There is still the chance that you can get the flu even if you have had the flu shot. The hope is that because you’ve had the flu shot, your symptoms won’t be as severe, and the duration of your illness will be shorter than without the vaccine.
You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. Again, the flu vaccine contains a “dead” version of the virus that does not infect or cause symptoms. In some cases, people have already been exposed to the virus and don’t know it.
Symptoms can appear one to four days after exposure. It takes two weeks for your body to develop flu antibodies from the flu shot.
Facts about Shingles
Shingles is caused by a completely different virus than Influenza. It is actually caused by varicella-zoster virus -- the same virus which also causes chickenpox.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes shingles as “an outbreak of rash or blisters on the skin.” (4) The first sign of shingles is often burning or tingling pain, or sometimes numbness or itchiness in one particular location on only one side of the body.
Then, several days or up to a week later, a rash of fluid-filled blisters (like chickenpox) appears in this one area most commonly on the trunk of the body around the waistline.
The severity of the pain varies from person to person, but many people report agonizing, debilitating pain that leaves them unable to do the simplest things like dressing themselves. The rubbing of fabric or even the brush of air can be painful.
If you have had the chickenpox, you are at risk for developing shingles.
Scientists believe that in the original, earlier case of chickenpox, some of the varicella-zoster virus particles migrated from the blisters to the nervous system. The varicella-zoster virus reactivates and moves down to longer nerve fibers and multiplies, causing the tell-tale rash. (4)
No one really knows what triggers or reactivates the virus or why. We don't know why the immunity developed for chickenpox doesn’t also protect against shingles either.
Because shingles is its own unique virus, a completely shingles-focused vaccine was developed and is now available and recommended to those aged 50 and up, the age group most at risk for experiencing shingles.
Shingles and influenza are completely different viruses, so one cannot cause the other. The flu vaccine cannot cause shingles, neither can the shingles vaccine cause influenza.
1. Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. Accessed: Nov 27, 2014.
2. About the Flu. Health Canada. HealthyCanadians.gc.ca. Web. Accessed: Nov 27, 2014.
3. Risk. Health Canada. HealthyCanadians.gc.ca. Web. Accessed: Nov 27, 2014.
4. NINDS Shingles Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Web. Accessed: Nov 27, 2014.
5. Flu Facts. KidsHealth.org. Web. Accessed: Nov 27, 2014.
Reviewed November 28, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith