What causes shingles?

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a serious disease caused by the same virus (varicella-zoster) that leads to chickenpox. Once a person has had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in their body. If it reactivates, it can cause shingles. Nine in ten Canadian adults carry the virus that causes shingles.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

Shingles commonly appears as a painful, blistering skin rash on one side of the torso that can last for weeks. The pain from shingles can be severe and debilitating, and can interfere with day-to-day activities.

Does shingles cause any complications?

The most common complication from shingles is prolonged and severe nerve pain known as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), for which there is no cure. Older individuals are more likely to develop PHN and the pain is more likely to be severe.

Shingles may also lead to serious complications involving the eye (herpes zoster ophthalmicus), while more rare complications include pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation (encephalitis) or even death.

Can I get shingles from other people?

When a shingles rash is in the blister phase, the virus that causes it can be spread to another person who has never had chickenpox through direct contact with the fluid in the blisters. In this case, the person who has been exposed may develop chickenpox, but not shingles (although they may develop shingles later on).

Once the shingles rash has developed crusts, the infected individual is no longer contagious. Shingles cannot be passed from person to person through a cough, sneeze or close proximity.

Who is at risk of getting shingles?

Anyone who has previously had chickenpox can develop shingles at any time, and at any age. In fact, one out of every three Canadians will develop shingles in their lifetime.

However, the risk of developing shingles increases as individuals get older. Approximately two-thirds of all shingles cases occur in people over the age of 50, who are also more likely to experience severe cases and complications. People with weakened immune systems are also at greater risk of developing shingles.


Since September 2016, Ontario has offered seniors 65 to 70 years of age the opportunity to receive a one-time publicly funded dose of Zostavax® II through the shingles immunization program.

Can shingles be treated?

There are several antiviral medications available to shorten the length and severity of shingles, and they are most effective if they are taken as soon as the rash appears. Over-the-counter products such as wet compresses and calamine lotion can also help to relive pain and itching.

The best protection against shingles is prevention. The Shingrix® vaccine can significantly reduce your risk of developing shingles and long-term pain caused by PHN or other complications.

Who is eligible to receive the publicly funded Shingrix® vaccine?

Seniors in Ontario who are between the ages of 65 and 70 are eligible to receive the publicly funded two-dose Shingrix® vaccine provided they have not already received the publicly funded Zostavax® II vaccine, which was available between 2016 and October 2020.

However, seniors who previously privately paid for a dose of Zostavax® II are eligible for re-vaccination with Shingrix®.

Seniors who do not meet these eligibility criteria are encouraged to speak with their primary health care provider to learn more about shingles immunization, including the option to purchase the vaccine privately.

How Can Appletree Help?

Book a Preventive Health visit that focuses on helping patients avert and avoid disease. During this type of appointment, our physician will review and update your vaccination.

Learn more about preventive health

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