Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by reactivation of the latent varicella zoster virus.

This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Information about chickenpox can be found on Health Protection Scotland (external website). 

Following initial infection, usually in childhood, the virus can lie inactive in the body’s nervous system.

Reactivation of the virus can take place later in life, when the immune system has been weakened by:

  • age
  • stress
  • illness
  • immunosuppressant treatments such as for cancer

Shingles is characterised by a painful skin rash.

Complications may result from shingles infection including post-herpetic neuralgia.

Complications are more common in the elderly and in individuals who are immunosuppressed.

The shingles vaccine can reduce:

  • the risk of getting shingles
  • the risk of getting complications

There are two licensed shingles vaccines available in the UK. Zostavax® is a live vaccine given as a single dose.

Shingrix® is a non-live vaccine given as a two-dose schedule.

The Zostavax® vaccine is routinely used and Shingrix® is given to those who are severely immunosuppressed.

Information for the public about shingles can be found on NHS inform (external website).

Last updated: 06 October 2022