What Is Herpes Zoster?
Herpes zoster, also known as shingles, is a viral infection. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has recovered from chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in the body. The virus can be activated later in life, returning as shingles. This typically occurs in people aged 50 years and older.
The virus returns for unknown reasons. Some causes may include stress or a weakened immune system. Typically, it returns one time with only one episode of symptoms. However, more than one episode can occur. It is a common illness in the United States.
The virus that causes shingles can be spread to people who have not had chickenpox. These people would get chickenpox, not shingles.
The most common symptoms of shingles include:
- Painful 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. Antiviral medications may be given to help the symptoms go away faster.
Possible complications include long-term nerve pain. Other complications are lesson common, but serious, such as blindness, deafness, brain inflammation, and death.
What Is Herpes Zoster Vaccine?
This vaccine is a live, weakened form of the varicella zoster virus. It is given as a shot under the skin.
Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?
The vaccine is licensed for adults aged 50 years and older. One dose is typically given.
What Are the Risks Associated With the Herpes Zoster Vaccine?
- Common, minor side effects, such as local soreness, swelling, or itching
- Less common, moderate side effects, such as headache
- Rarely, anaphylaxis—a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction marked by hives, facial or tongue swelling, and difficulty breathing
Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?
You should not get the vaccine if you:
- Have a weakened immune system due to medications or other health conditions.
- Have an allergy to gelatin or neomycin.
- Are moderately or severely ill. Wait until you have recovered.
- Are or may be pregnant.
What Other Ways Can Shingles Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?
You cannot get shingles if you have never had chickenpox. However, you may get a severe case of chickenpox. If you had chickenpox, you are at risk for shingles. Getting the vaccine can reduce your risk.
What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?
During a shingles outbreak, varicella zoster virus can be spread to people who have not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. People who have not had chickenpox should get the chickenpox vaccine.
- Reviewer: David L. Horn, MD
- Review Date: 11/2015 -
- Update Date: 12/20/2014 -