Shingles Myths and Facts for Consumers

Myth:

The biggest problem about shingles is dealing with the rash.

Fact:

Though rash is one of the defining characteristics of shingles, pain is actually a very common and troubling symptom of shingles. The pain associated with shingles can be severe. It may begin two to four days before the rash appears and it can last long after–sometimes up to a year or more. The pain that lasts after the rash has healed is called post-herpetic neuralgia, or PHN.

Myth:

Shingles is very rare.

Fact:

In the US, about one million individuals get shingles every year and two in 10 or more will get shingles in their lifetime. Shingles is more common as we get older; so, as our population ages, we can expect that even more people will get shingles every year.

Myth:

There is nothing I can do to avoid getting shingles.

Fact:

Until recently, this was true. But now there is a vaccine available to help prevent shingles. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved it for use in anyone 60 years of age and older. The pain associated with shingles can be very severe and may last weeks, months or even years after it begins, so preventing shingles or reducing how long the pain might last are important goals.

Myth:

Shingles only affects elderly people.

Fact:

Shingles typically affects older people, but it can occur in healthy younger persons and even in children. Those whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV infection, AIDS, cancer, or treatment with certain drugs are also at increased risk of getting shingles.

Myth:

Shingles is the same disease as the chickenpox.

Fact:

Although shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus, they are not the same illness. Chickenpox is usually a mild illness that affects children. Shingles results from a re-activation of the virus long after the chickenpox illness has disappeared. While it resolves in about a month for most people, it can also cause severe and long-lasting pain that is very difficult to treat.