SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Shingles is a skin rash characterised by pain and blistering which usually appears on one side of the face or body.
- The virus responsible for shingles can be spread to a person who has not had chickenpox disease or vaccinations when a person comes into contact with the fluid contained in the rash blisters, either directly or indirectly.
- You can’t catch shingles from another person with shingles.
- Shingles is caused by the same virus responsible for chickenpox.
- Treatment is most effective within 3 days of the rash appearing.
- The Australian Government provides free shingles vaccinations for some people under the National Immunisation Program.
Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles. It occurs because of a reactivation of the chickenpox virus, which remains in the nerve cells of the body after an attack of chickenpox.
About one in 3 people will get shingles in their lifetime. Shingles usually affects older people, and the risk of complications increases with age, particularly for those over the age of 65, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 and over and some people with weakened .
Symptoms of shingles
Shingles is a characterised by pain and which usually appears on one side of the face or body. Tender, painful skin, tiredness, and photophobia may occur 2 to 3 days before the skin turns red and breaks out in tiny fluid-filled blisters.
Shingles can affect any part of the body, including the face. Classically, the rash caused by shingles often takes the shape of a belt from the midline on one side of the body. The rash forms its characteristic pattern because the virus works down the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord. The chest and lumbar region are most commonly affected.
The rash usually lasts about 10 to 15 days. During that time, a scaly crust might appear. Once the attack is over, the skin usually returns to normal, but there can be some scarring or a secondary bacterial infection in severe cases.
How shingles is spread to a person who has not had chickenpox disease or vaccinations
Shingles can be spread when a person comes into contact with fluid contained in the rash blisters. The virus can be spread by direct contact with the lesions or by touching any dressings, sheets or clothes soiled with discharge from the spots. This can cause chickenpox disease in people who have never had chickenpox disease or vaccination.
Shingles, chickenpox and pregnancy
An attack of shingles during will not harm the unborn baby. The mother is already carrying the varicella zoster virus before developing shingles and there is no increase in the risk of passing it on to the foetus if shingles develops. However, an attack of chickenpox during pregnancy can be serious and requires urgent medical attention.
Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN)
Sometimes, the pain doesn’t go away once the shingles rash has cleared. This persistent pain in the region for longer than 3 months is called post-herpetic neuralgia.
The risk of post-herpetic neuralgia increases with advancing age. It is reduced by prior vaccination, but not by antoviral tablets.
Pain-relieving medication or tablets specific for nerve pain may be needed to help manage symptoms.
Treatment for shingles
Anti-viral medications can help ease the pain and shorten an attack of shingles. The medication works best if administered within 3 days, and ideally within 24 hours, of the onset of a rash. If you think you have shingles, seek urgent medical attention. Analgesic medication may also ease post-herpetic neuralgia but consult your doctor first.
Shingles and chickenpox vaccination
- people aged 65 years and older
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 years and older
- immunocompromised people aged 18 years and older with the following medical conditions:
Two doses are required for maximum protection.
Check with your immunisation provider if you can get a free Shingrix® vaccine.
While the NIP vaccines are free, your vaccination provider may charge a consultation fee for the visit.
Vaccination is still recommended for people who have had shingles infection in the past. It is recommended to wait at least a year after recovery.
- to children aged 18 months of age (as a combined vaccine with measles, mumps and rubella)
- as catch-up for all children up to 20 years of age
- for refugees and humanitarian entrants aged 20 years and over.
People aged 14 years and older require 2 doses of the chickenpox vaccine, one to 2 months apart.
Australian Immunisation Register
The Australian Immunisation Register records the vaccines given for all people living in Australia. This means that if you see another health service anywhere in Australia, then your vaccine history can be checked on the register.
Your doctor or immunisation provider will record your vaccines to the register on your behalf.