Last updated: February 23, 2023
Shingles is still underestimated by many. Shingles Health Week (February 27-March 5, 2023) aims to help more people learn about the risks of the disease. Anyone infected with chickenpox carries the varicella-zoster virus for life. This also causes shingles. Vaccination can prevent shingles outbreaks. Why and to whom is preventative care so important?
- © GSK_Shutterstock_Yuganov Konstantin
Article content at a glance:
What is shingles?
A serious viral disease (herpes zoster) is caused by the varicella zoster virus. This virus can cause two different illnesses: Many people get chickenpox as children, and then shingles later in life. After contracting acute chickenpox, the virus remains in the body for life. Experts estimate that more than 95 percent of people over the age of 60 carry the varicella-zoster virus.
As we age, the immune system naturally weakens. After that, it often can no longer keep the varicella viruses in check and becomes active again. Stress and illnesses (such as COVID-19) can also spread shingles. The risk of shingles increases after the age of 60.
Learn about the symptoms of herpes zoster
At the onset of herpes zoster, non-specific symptoms such as fever, tiredness, and fatigue often appear – many people with the flu think at first. This is followed by skin changes typical of shingles: a band-shaped rash, often around the trunk or legs. It can also form on the face, and a possible severe form is facial rosacea. This can lead to visual or hearing impairment and even loss. The rash is usually accompanied by severe pain, which varies in intensity. Many sufferers report burning or stabbing pain. Here it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible to enable timely treatment.
Preventing complications from shingles
Up to 30 percent of infected people experience complications or secondary symptoms after herpes zoster. Persistent nerve pain is particularly common. Then the specialists talk about postherpetic neuralgia. Chronic pain can severely limit quality of life and daily life and lead to mental illnesses such as depression.
Prevent herpes zoster with vaccination
Herpes zoster and its potential complications can be prevented. Since 2018, the Standing Committee on Immunization (STIKO) has recommended vaccination for all people over the age of 60. In addition, people over the age of 50 and those with pre-existing conditions can be vaccinated as a preventive measure. They include, for example:
- HIV infection
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- bronchial asthma;
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Chronic renal failure
The herpes zoster vaccination is a double vaccination at intervals of two to six months. The influenza or COVID-19 vaccination may also be given close to the herpes zoster vaccine. It is best to get advice from your family doctor if you are concerned.
Protect yourself from shingles – let your doctor advise you on your prevention options. More info at
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