Shingles is a painful skin rash with blisters caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.

What is shingles?

Shingles is a painful skin rash with blisters. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus stays in people’s nerve cells and can become active again later in life causing shingles.

You cannot get shingles if you have never had chickenpox, but anyone who has had chicken pox can get shingles.

About 1 out of 3 people will get shingles in their lifetime. Shingles is more common in people 50 years of age and over and those with immune systems weakened by medication or disease.

See pictures of the shingles rash and blisters.

How is shingles spread?

You cannot get shingles from someone with shingles. However, if you have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, you can get chickenpox by being in direct contact with shingle blisters. Shingles is not spread by sneezing or coughing. Once the blisters crust over the person can no longer spread the virus.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

The most common symptoms are pain, itching or tingling of the skin. This is followed by a painful rash with blisters. The rash is usually only on a small area on one side of the body. Other early symptoms can include headache, fever, chills and nausea. The rash from shingles usually lasts two to four weeks.

What are the risks of shingles?

About one in five people who get shingles will have severe pain after the rash goes away. This pain can last months or even years. This pain is known as post-herpetic neuralgia.

Rare complications of shingles include scarring, pneumonia, loss of hearing or vision, swelling of the brain (encephalitis) and bacterial superinfections of the rash.

How can I prevent getting shingles?

Prevent your children from getting shingles later in life by getting them immunized with the chickenpox vaccine. As an adult the best way to not get shingles is to get the shingles vaccine. The shingles vaccine is safe. It is much safer to get the vaccine than to get the disease. When you get immunized with the shingles vaccine you help protect others from chicken pox.

People with shingles can prevent spreading the virus by covering their rash, not touching or scratching the rash and washing their hands often.

Who should get the shingles vaccine?

There are two shingles vaccines approved for use in Canada.

Zostavax II

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on immunization (NACI) recommends one dose of Zostavax II for people 60 years of age and older. However, anyone 50 years of age and older can get the vaccine. One dose of Zostavax II has been shown to decrease the risk of getting shingles by 50 per cent.

Shingrix

Shingrix has recently been approved for use in Canada in adults 50 years of age and older. Two doses of Shingrix has been shown to reduce the risk of getting shingles by more than 90 per cent. As NACI has not yet made a recommendation for the use of Shingrix vaccine in Canada, it is recommended that you speak with your health care provider if you are interested in getting this vaccine.

How much does the shingles vaccine cost?

Shingles vaccines are not publicly funded (free) in B.C. One dose of Zostavax costs about $200; each dose of Shingrix is about $150. Both vaccines are available at most travel clinics and pharmacies. Check with your health insurance provider to see if your plan covers the cost of these vaccines.

Get immunized against shingles by making an appointment with your doctor, pharmacist or travel clinic.

Resources

For more information about shingles and the shingles vaccine, go to: