Questions About Shingles

Is Shingles contagious? >

You cannot get Shingles from another person by sneezing or coughing or through casual contact. The only way to get Shingles is by first having chickenpox. However, if a person has never had chickenpox and has direct contact with the Shingles rash when it is still blistering, he or she can get chickenpox, which can later resurface as Shingles.

What causes Shingles? >

Shingles is a painful, blistering rash that is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.

What are the symptoms of Shingles? >

Shingles is a rash that usually appears on one side of the body. The rash begins as a cluster of small red spots that often blister. And with those blisters people experience deep, penetrating pain.

What increases my risk for Shingles? >

If you’ve had chickenpox, your chances of getting Shingles increase as you get older and/or have problems with your immune system.

Are there any long-term complications from Shingles? >

Out of every four patients who get Shingles, one person will experience one or more complications, some of which may be serious.

Most people recover from the nerve pain of Shingles as the rash heals. But 1 in 5 people who develop Shingles will experience postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN, nerve pain that can develop even after the rash heals. This nerve pain can range from mild to severe and debilitating and can last from a few months to several years.

If I’ve had chickenpox, does that mean I can get Shingles? >

Yes. The same virus that causes chickenpox stays in your body and can later resurface as Shingles, which can be a painful, blistering rash. In fact, 1 in 3 people will get Shingles in their lifetime. Find out if you’re at risk for getting Shingles.

Am I really at risk for Shingles? >

If you've had chickenpox, you're at risk for Shingles. And as you get older, your risk increases because your immune system weakens as you age. That allows the Shingles virus to resurface. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to predict if or when Shingles will happen to you. But the facts show that the older you get, the greater your risk of developing Shingles.

Is herpes zoster the same as genital herpes or herpes simplex? >

No. The herpes virus that causes Shingles and chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus, is not the same as the herpes virus that causes genital herpes and herpes mouth sores.

Can I get Shingles more than once? >

Yes. It is possible to get Shingles more than once. If you've had Shingles before, it's still important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your risk of getting it again.

What does Shingles look like? >

To see real pictures of Shingles, visit our gallery.

Questions About ZOSTAVAX

Who should get ZOSTAVAX® (Zoster Vaccine Live)? >

ZOSTAVAX is approved for adults 50 years of age and older. You should talk to your doctor or pharmacist to learn if ZOSTAVAX is right for you.

Who should not get ZOSTAVAX? >

You should not get ZOSTAVAX if you:

  • are allergic to any of its ingredients.
  • are allergic to gelatin or neomycin.
  • have a weakened immune system (for example, an immune deficiency, leukemia, lymphoma, or HIV/AIDS).
  • take medicines or receive treatment that might weaken your immune system (such as high doses of steroids by injection or by mouth).
  • are pregnant or plan to get pregnant.

You should not get ZOSTAVAX to prevent chickenpox. Children should not get ZOSTAVAX.

Does getting vaccinated against Shingles require multiple shots? >

No. ZOSTAVAX® (Zoster Vaccine Live) is given as a single shot. ZOSTAVAX cannot be used to treat Shingles, or the nerve pain that may follow Shingles, once you have it.

What are the ingredients of ZOSTAVAX? >

Each ZOSTAVAX vaccine is made up of active and inactive ingredients:

  • The active ingredient is a weakened form of the varicella-zoster virus.
  • The inactive ingredients are sucrose, hydrolyzed porcine gelatin, sodium chloride, monosodium L-glutamate, sodium phosphate dibasic, potassium phosphate monobasic, potassium chloride.
Does insurance cover ZOSTAVAX? >

To learn about insurance coverage and ZOSTAVAX, use our insurance guide.



Another name for herpes zoster. Shingles is a painful, blistering rash that usually occurs on one side of the back and stomach, but can appear anywhere on the body, including around the eye and forehead. Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has chickenpox, the virus never leaves the body. It can lie dormant for decades and turn into the painful, blistering Shingles rash at any time.

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A tiny organism that uses healthy host cells to multiply and spread. Viruses are not affected by antibiotics and they cause diseases like chickenpox and Shingles.

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An infectious disease that causes an itchy blister-like rash. Chickenpox usually affects children, and when it does, it’s usually mild. But when it affects adults, it can be very serious.

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An area of the skin that is irritated or swollen and may be red, itchy, bumpy, scaly, crusty, or blistered. Shingles rashes are caused by the varicella-zoster virus, but irritating substances, allergies, and diseases may also cause rashes.

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Immune system

Your body’s natural defense system that protects you from bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other organisms that can cause harm. The immune system fights these foreign invaders. This is called the immune response.

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Varicella-zoster virus

The virus that causes chickenpox and Shingles.

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A product made from a chemical process using the skin, bones, and white connective tissue of animals. It is an ingredient in ZOSTAVAX® (Zoster Vaccine Live). People who are allergic to gelatin should not get ZOSTAVAX.

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An antibiotic. People who are allergic to neomycin should not get ZOSTAVAX® (Zoster Vaccine Live). People with a history of an anaphylactic reaction to neomycin should not get ZOSTAVAX. People who get skin inflammation when applying a neomycin product to their skin may still be able to receive ZOSTAVAX.

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Important Safety Information

You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit, or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

Please read the accompanying Patient Information for ZOSTAVAX® (Zoster Vaccine Live) and discuss it with your health care professional. The physician Prescribing Information also is available.

Having trouble paying for your Merck vaccine? Merck may be able to help. Visit