The Travel Health and Vaccine Specialists

Back to Vaccinations

Vaccinations

Shingles

What is Shingles?
Shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Nearly 1 out of every 3 people will develop shingles. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles; even children can get shingles. However, the risk of getting the disease increases as a person gets older. About half of all cases occur among men and women who are 60 years old or older.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Shingles usually starts as a painful rash on one side of the face or body. The rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7–10 days and clears up within 2–4 weeks.
  • Before the rash develops, there is often pain, itching, or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. This may happen anywhere from 1 to 5 days before the rash appears.
  • Most commonly, the rash occurs in a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. In other cases, the rash occurs on one side of the face. In rare cases (usually among people with weakened immune systems), the rash may be more widespread and look similar to a chickenpox rash. Shingles can affect the eye and cause loss of vision.
    shingles1 shingles2
  • Other symptoms of shingles can include
    • Fever
    • Headache
    • Chills
    • Upset stomach

Risk for Travelers

  • Risk is not increased due to travel but may certainly interrupt/affect your travel plans.
  • Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. However, the virus that causes shingles, the varicella zoster virus, can be spread from a person with active shingles to a person who has never had chickenpox. In such cases, the person exposed to the virus might develop chickenpox, but they would not develop shingles. The virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters, not through sneezing, coughing or casual contact.
  • A person with shingles can spread the virus when the rash is in the blister-phase. A person is not infectious before blisters appear. Once the rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer contagious.
  • Shingles is less contagious than chickenpox and the risk of a person with shingles spreading the virus is low if the rash is covered.

Prevention
The only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain that can follow shingles is to get vaccinated. A vaccine for shingles is licensed for persons aged 50 years and older.

Treatment
If you have shingles

  • Keep the rash covered.
  • Do not touch or scratch the rash.
  • Wash your hands often to prevent the spread of varicella zoster virus.
  • Until your rash has developed crusts, avoid contact with
    • pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or the varicella vaccine;
    • premature or low birth weight infants; and
    • immunocompromised persons (such as persons receiving immunosuppressive medications or undergoing chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients, and people with HIV infection).
  • Several antiviral medicines are available to treat shingles. These medicines will help shorten the length and severity of the illness. But to be effective, they must be started as soon as possible after the rash appears. Thus, people who have or think they might have shingles should call their healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment options.
  • Analgesics (pain medicine) may help relieve the pain caused by shingles. Wet compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths may help relieve some of the itching.