Shingles Prevention

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There are ways to avoid getting shingles, and vaccination is the most effective way. Your shingles prevention strategy will depend on your age and whether you've had chickenpox. If you're an older adult who had chickenpox as a child, the best way to avoid getting shingles is to get a shingles vaccine, which is approved for people aged 50 and older. Stress can trigger shingles, so managing stress can help prevent this condition. Children can get the chickenpox vaccine, which will prevent the varicella virus from entering the body and potentially reactivating to cause shingles later in life.

If you're under 50 and have never had chickenpox, talk to your doctor about getting the chickenpox vaccine.


Shingles, which is a flare-up of the chickenpox-causing varicella virus, causes symptoms of extreme pain in a localized area of the body and a rash that can last for two to four weeks or longer.

The most common complication of shingles is a rare chronic pain condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Rarely, eye infections, skin infections, or brain involvement can develop, especially if the rash involves the face.

Avoidance

The varicella virus that causes chickenpox can "hide" in the nervous system for years, even decades, and later reactivate, causing shingles. The most common cause of shingles is that a child contracts the virus at a young age and develops shingles as an adult.

  • If you have not had chickenpox or its vaccine, you should steer clear of anyone who has active shingles. It's important to understand that exposure to shingles does not put you at risk of getting shingles, which cannot be spread through contact with the rash—but exposure to someone who has shingles can put you at risk of coming down with chickenpox. This is true for adults and children. Babies, especially, can develop a severe chickenpox infection if they are exposed to someone who has shingles.
  • If you haven't already had a chickenpox infection or a chickenpox virus, steer clear of anyone who you know to be ill with chickenpox—even if it's your favorite niece or nephew. You won't get shingles from someone who has chickenpox, but you may get chickenpox if you have not developed immunity to it through infection or a vaccine.

Chickenpox infection is usually relatively mild in children, typically involving a week of mild fever, general fatigue, and an itchy rash. But these symptoms can be more severe if you're not infected until you're an adult. Complications of chickenpox infection can include hearing loss and meningitis—these are more common among older adults and young babies than they are for school-aged children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children get the first dose of chickenpox vaccine, which is part of the regular schedule of childhood vaccinations, at 12 to 15 months, and the second shot between 4 and 6 years. Unvaccinated teens and adults also are advised to get two doses of the varicella vaccine, four to six weeks apart.

The virus that causes chickenpox moves in for good once it infects the body, so by allowing it in, you put yourself at risk of shingles at some point in your life. So exposing children to chickenpox so they can "get it over with" rather than having them vaccinated will lead to a risk of shingles later in life. The chickenpox vaccine is perfectly safe.

Vaccination

There are two vaccines for shingles. One, called Zostavax (zoster vaccine live), was licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006. The other shingles vaccine, Shingrix (zoster vaccine—recombinant, adjuvanted) debuted in 2017. Both vaccines also protect against PHN and typically are covered by health insurance or Medicare.

Here's how the two vaccines compare:

  • Type of vaccine: Zostavax is a live attenuated virus. This means that it contains a weakened version of live varicella, which stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies against the virus. Shingrix is a non-live vaccine known that is made from a part of the virus. This makes it safer for people with immune-system problems who could become sick from a live vaccine. 
  • The number of doses: Zostavax is a one-shot vaccine. Shingrix is given in two doses, two to six months apart.
  • Effectiveness: The CDC says that Zostavax reduces the risk of shingles by 51% and lowers the risk of PHN by 67%. Two doses of Shingrix provide more than 90% effectiveness at preventing shingles and PHN. For at least four years after receiving Shingrix, protection against both conditions stays above 85%. 
  • Recommended age for vaccination: Zostavax is recommended by the CDC for people 60 and older, but the agency does not have a recommendation for people between 50 and 59. This is because the vaccine provides protection for only about five years, so getting it before age 60 can put you at risk of losing protection by the time you reach the age when the risk of shingles is highest. Shingrix is approved for people who are age 50 and older. 
  • Side effectsBoth shingles vaccines are safe, though they have side effects—redness, soreness, swelling, or itching of the skin where the shot was given, in particular. Some people may also experience muscle pain, headache, fatigue, shivering, low-grade fever, or an upset stomach after receiving either vaccine. Both carry a very low risk of triggering a severe allergic reaction that requires urgent medical attention—symptoms include hives, swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, a racing heart, dizziness, and weakness. 

Shingles Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Old Woman

Stress Relief

There's evidence the varicella virus sometimes re-emerges due to stress. While there's little you can do to prevent the unexpected negative turns that life can throw at you, such as job loss or a loved one's severe illness, there are plenty of strategies for protecting yourself from general stress and anxiety. 

Tips for relieving shingles symptoms
 Verywell / Jessica OlahOwner

Managing your stress is one of the most important ways you can keep the varicella virus from reactivating.


There are lots of proven ways to reduce stress, which means there are plenty of options to try until you find the strategies that offer the most calming benefits to you. Yoga, meditation, a hobby, or another activity that you find relaxing are just a few of the possibilities.

Tai Chi may be especially helpful. There's preliminary evidence that this gentle form of exercise, which began as a martial art in China, may improve immune function and health in older adults who are at risk for shingles.

In a 2003 study 36 men and women age 60 and over did three 45-minute Tai Chi classes per week for 15 weeks. At the end of this time, they had an increase in immunity to the varicella-zoster virus. A control group that did not do Tai Chi did not have a bump in VZV immunity.

Lifestyle habits can help you stay strong and healthy, both physically and mentally.

These include:

  • Sticking to a nutrient-rich diet
  • Getting plenty of physical movement throughout your day
  • Getting adequate sleep.
  • If you smoke, kicking the habit
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you prevent shingles?

    The most effective prevention against shingles is vaccination. The Shingrix vaccine is currently available and recommended for all healthy adults age 50 and over and the Zostavax vaccine is approved for people who are age 60 and older. Shingrix requires two doses administered two to six months apart and it is safe for people with weakened immune systems. However, it's important to remember that no vaccine is 100% effective, and even if you are vaccinated you can still get shingles.

  • What triggers a shingles outbreak?

    Shingles is caused by the varicella virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you’ve had chickenpox, the varicella virus remains inactive in your system. Physical and emotional stress can trigger the virus to reactivate and cause a shingles outbreak. 

  • Is shingles contagious?

    No, shingles is not contagious. However, because it is the same virus as chickenpox, someone who does not have immunity to chickenpox can catch the virus from someone who has shingles and can become sick with chickenpox.  If you have an outbreak of shingles, you should stay away from children who are too young to be vaccinated and people who have not ever had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine. 

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