Shingles is a reactivation of varicella zoster virus (VZV), the virus that causes chickenpox. It can lead to a painful, blistering skin rash. Shingles is also called herpes zoster.
You may have read that some people develop shingles after getting the
This article covers the connection between the COVID-19 vaccine and shingles, other common causes of shingles, and how doctors treat shingles. Keep reading to learn more.
Research shows that getting shingles after COVID-19 vaccines predominantly links with the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, including the ones that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna produce.
Experts don’t yet know why the COVID-19 vaccines may increase the risk of shingles. It’s possible that it could happen due to immune system changes that happen after getting a vaccine.
The research into this topic can be conflicting as well. Let’s take a look at two different studies.
Increased risk of shingles after COVID-19 vaccination
The researchers found that 0.2% and 0.11% of the vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, respectively, developed shingles in the 60 days after their clinic visits.
While the researchers noted an increased frequency of shingles after the mRNA vaccines, they noted that this finding isn’t exclusive to COVID-19 vaccines. Experts observe this with vaccines for other diseases.
The researchers also noted that their study didn’t consider whether individuals included in their group had potential risk factors for shingles.
No increased risk of shingles after COVID-19 vaccination
While the study above noted that there may be an increased risk of getting shingles after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, a 2021 study had conflicting findings.
This study compared shingles onset within a 28-day period after either receiving an mRNA vaccine or getting a diagnosis for another skin condition. The people in the second group had no known history of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
The researchers matched these two groups of individuals 1-to-1 based on factors like age, sex, race or ethnicity, and health history. After this matching, they observed no increased risk of shingles between the two groups.
You can also develop shingles after having COVID-19. A
Older individuals may be more likely to develop shingles after having COVID-19. In a
Compared with people who hadn’t had COVID-19, those that had experienced it had a 15% higher chance of shingles. This chance increased to 21% for individuals who experienced hospitalization for COVID-19.
Similar to getting shingles after a COVID-19 vaccine, the reason why COVID-19 can lead to shingles is unclear. It may happen due to immune dysfunction that occurs from COVID-19.
VZV is a type of herpesvirus. This is a viral family that also includes the herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2, which cause oral and genital herpes, respectively. Like these viruses, VZV can lie dormant in your nerves after an initial infection.
In some cases, VZV can reactivate. When this happens, it moves down the nerves until it reaches the skin, leading to the characteristic shingles rash.
Risk factors for shingles
Generally, almost anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles. While experts do not know yet what causes VZV to reactivate, experts believe that the reactivation happens due to factors that can lower immunity, such as:
- older adulthood
- intense physical or emotional stress
- a weakened immune system, which can happen because of:
- cancer and its treatment
- organ or bone marrow transplants
- inheritable immunodeficiency disorders
Doctors can treat shingles with antiviral drugs. These drugs can help make a case of shingles shorter and less severe, and they can prevent complications from shingles like postherpetic neuralgia.
Some types of antiviral drugs that doctors commonly use to treat shingles include:
- acyclovir (Sitavig, Zovirax)
- famciclovir (Famvir)
- valacyclovir (Valtrex)
Antiviral drugs can be most effective when you begin taking them shortly after the symptoms of shingles develop. As such, contact a doctor promptly if you suspect that you have shingles.
You can also try the following at home that may help you recover:
- Place a cool compress over the rash to ease itching and pain.
- Avoid scratching or picking at the rash, as this can increase the risk of a bacterial infection.
- Practice healthy lifestyle habits, such as resting up and eating a balanced diet.
You can help prevent shingles by receiving the shingles vaccine. This vaccine is called Shingrix.
Because shingles may be brought on by intense stress, you can also explore ways to reduce stress in your daily life. A few examples of things to look into include:
- spending quality time with your family and friends
- doing yoga
- trying out meditation or mindfulness
- practicing breathing techniques
- engaging in a hobby that brings you joy
- going for a walk outside
- listening to calming music
While all the things above can help lower stress levels, they may not absolutely prevent you from getting shingles. Experts recommend that the most effective way to reduce your risk of shingles can be to get the shingles vaccine when you’re eligible for it.
Should you get a COVID-19 vaccine if you have an autoimmune disease?
Some experts recommend that it can be a good idea for people with autoimmune diseases to get the COVID-19 vaccine. This is because people who have autoimmune diseases may have weakened immune systems due to taking immunosuppressant medications to treat their conditions.
People with weakened immune systems may be more likely to get severe COVID-19, according to the
Can a COVID-19 vaccine cause an autoimmune flare-up?
A COVID-19 vaccine might cause an autoimmune flare-up. A 2022 research review noted that current evidence generally doesn’t support an increased risk of a flare-up following the COVID-19 vaccination.
However, it also pointed out that flare-ups are still possible after vaccination, particularly in people with higher disease activity. The writers went on to say that these flare-ups are often mild and don’t require more intensive treatment.
Field experts share that since people with autoimmune diseases can have higher chances of developing COVID-19, the benefits of getting a vaccine may outweigh the potential risk of a flare-up.
Can other vaccines increase your risk of shingles?
Other vaccines may increase your risk of shingles. VZV reactivation links with other vaccines. A
Can I get shingles if I received the chickenpox vaccine?
Yes, you can get shingles if you received the chickenpox vaccine. This is because it’s a live vaccine, meaning it uses a weakened form of VZV.
However, according to the
Can I get shingles if I’ve never had chickenpox?
No, you cannot get shingles if you’ve never had chickenpox. Shingles is a reactivation of VZV, the virus that causes chickenpox. To get shingles, you must have had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine.
Chickenpox can be serious in adults. If you haven’t had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, experts suggest that getting a vaccine against chickenpox can help prevent the chickenpox infection.
Shingles is a reactivation of VZV that can cause a painful rash. It’s possible to develop shingles after COVID-19 vaccination and after having COVID-19.
This observation isn’t specific to COVID-19. Other vaccines and infections link with the onset of shingles. Experts do not know the reasons for this yet, but they’re likely related to immune system changes or dysfunction
You can treat shingles with a combination of antiviral drugs and at-home care. Experts share that getting the shingles vaccine when it’s available to you can reduce your risk of getting shingles.