Frequently asked questions

Have a question? Check out the FAQ section below for the answers to the most asked-about topics.

  • What is shingles?

    Shingles is a painful, blistering rash that can last several weeks. For some, the pain from shingles can last for months or even years after the rash heals. The same virus that causes chickenpox also causes shingles. The rash usually develops as a stripe of blisters that wraps around either the right or left side of your torso. It may also develop around one eye or one side of the neck or face.

  • What are possible complications?*

    • Shingles in or around the eye can cause infections which can result in vision loss.
    • In some people, shingles pain can last for months or even years. This is called postherpetic neuralgia.
    • Depending on which nerves are affected, shingles can cause neurological problems such as inflammation of the brain, facial paralysis or hearing problems.
    • Bacterial skin infections may develop if shingles blisters aren’t properly treated.
    • People with suppressed immune systems are more likely to have complications.
    * ZOSTAVAX® II is not indicated to treat the complications associated with shingles.
  • Is shingles contagious?

    The varicella-zoster virus can be passed on to anyone who isn’t immune to chickenpox, usually through direct contact with the sores of the shingles rash. Once infected, the person will develop chickenpox (not shingles).

  • What are the treatments for shingles?

    While there is no cure for shingles, prompt treatment with antiviral drugs can help stop the shingles virus from multiplying and therefore can speed healing.
    Medications such as painkillers can help reduce the pain.

    You may also feel more comfortable through the use of cool, wet compresses.

    † Always consult a healthcare professional before taking any medication.
  • What are the symptoms of shingles?

    Shingles symptoms include:

    • Pain, burning, numbness or tingling
    • In some people, the pain is intense
    • A red rash that begins a few days after the pain
    • Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
    • Itching

    Some people also get:

    • Fever and chills
    • General achiness
    • Headache
    • Fatigue
  • What causes shingles?

    Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus – the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox may develop shingles. Although it’s not clear why the virus returns, it may be due to lower immunity to infections as people grow older.

  • What are the risk factors?

    Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles. The majority of older North Americans had chickenpox as children, before the chickenpox vaccine was routinely given.

    Risk factors include:

    • Age: If you are 50 or over, you are at risk. The risk increases with age – some estimates suggest that half the people who live to 85 years will experience shingles.
    • Having a weakened immune system due to diseases such as HIV or cancer.
    • Cancer treatments can lower your resistance.

    Medications designed to prevent organ transplant rejections as well as steroids can increase your risk of developing shingles.