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Shingles Overview

What is shingles?

Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by varicella zoster virus. Symptoms include pain in the rash area, fever, and headache. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in the body. The virus can reactivate many years later and cause shingles. Read more about shingles and how it affects people on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

A shingles rash may include blisters that develop on one side of the face or body. They can last from two to four weeks. Very rarely, a shingles infection can lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, swelling of the brain (encephalitis), or death.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

Shingles has the following symptoms:

  • Pain, itching, or tingling in the area where a rash will develop
  • Painful rash, usually on one side of the body, typically on the face or torso
  • Fever
  • Headache

Who is at risk for shingles?

If you had chickenpox, you are at risk for shingles. About 98 percent of adults have had chickenpox. In the United States, at least 1 million people get shingles each year.

As you get older, your risk of developing shingles and having serious complications increases. About half (500,000) of shingles cases occur in people age 60 or older. It is more common in people who have a weakened immune system because of a disease, such as cancer or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or from drugs, like steroids or chemotherapy. Anyone can get shingles though, including children.

Limit the occurrence of shingles

The only way to preventing shingles is to get vaccinated. There is one vaccine, Shingrix, which is very effective in preventing shingles and complications, including postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Shingles Vaccine

When do people get shingles vaccine?

Shingles vaccine is recommended for everyone 50 years and older, as well as immunocompromised individuals 19 years and older.

You should not get shingles vaccine if you:

  • Are currently pregnant. Wait to get vaccinated.
  • Currently have shingles.
  • Have had a severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine.

What are the side effects of shingles vaccine?

The shingles vaccine causes a strong immune response in your body, it is common to experience short-term side effects. The most common side effects of singles vaccine include:

  • Sore arm with mild to moderate pain.
  • Redness and swelling where you got the vaccine.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Headache.
  • Fever and chills.

This vaccine is continually monitored for safety. The benefits and side effects of this vaccine outweigh the risk of getting shingles.

Why is shingles vaccine important?

Getting shingles vaccine is highly effective at preventing the disease. This vaccine prevents shingles in 97% of people age 50-69 years and 91% of people age 70 or older. In adults with weakened immune systems, Shingrix was between 68% and 91% effective in preventing shingles, depending on their underlying immunocompromising condition.

Long-term nerve pain is the most common complication of shingles. About 10% to 18% of people who have shingles develop nerve pain that lasts for months or years after the rash goes away. This nerve pain is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

Vaccine Information Statement and Resources

The Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) is given to parents/guardians at the time of vaccination. It explains the benefits and risks of the specific vaccination.

Read the current Shingles VIS from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Additional resources for the public

Additional resources for health care providers