How to prevent shingles and long-term pain for seniors

Excerpt: The risk of getting shingles increases with age and after 70, half of those with shingles develop chronic nerve pain. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends older adults receive the new shingles vaccine, Shingrix®, which is more than 90% effective in preventing shingles. The virus that causes shingles can be spread from one person to another through direct contact with fluid from blisters and cause chicken pox to develop.


Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infection that shows up as a painful skin rash with blisters, usually on one side of the body,* according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). People get shingles when the virus that causes chicken pox, varicella zoster (VZV), is reactivated in their body.*

About 1 in 3 Canadians will develop shingles in their lifetime,* reports Immunize Canada. The risk of developing shingles increases substantially with age because as people get older their immune systems are less able to control the virus.*

As people age, they’re also more likely to get potential complications, such as postherpetic neuralgia,* a type of nerve pain that can persist for months or years after the rash disappears. After age 70, about half of people who develop shingles will develop this painful complication, compared with 15% among people with shingles of all ages,* says Immunize Canada.

Shingles prevention options

Two different vaccines against the virus that causes shingles are now authorized for use in Canada: Zostavax II® (Live Zoster Vaccine, LZV) and the newer Shingrix® (Recombinant Zoster Vaccine, RZV),* according to the Canadian Immunization Guide.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that the RZV vaccine be offered to people 50 years of age and older to prevent shingles and substantially reduce the risk of postherpetic neuralgia if a person gets shingles.* The newer vaccine is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles for people across all age groups.* It offers better protection than the older vaccine for all ages, but especially for seniors. The older vaccine is less than 40% effective for people over 70 and less than 20% effective for those over 80,* according to NACI.

The cost for two doses of the Shingrix® vaccine ranges between $300* and $400.*

Is shingles contagious?

The virus that causes shingles, VRZ, can spread from a person with active shingles and cause chickenpox in someone who never had chicken pox,* according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A person with active shingles can spread the virus when the rash is in the blister phase. Transmission of the virus can occur if another person comes into direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters.*

To prevent spreading the virus to other people, cover the rash, avoid touching the rash, and wash your hands often,* advises CDC.

If you want to protect yourself or a family member against shingles, speak to your doctor for their recommendation on prevention.


*The following sources are references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1. Public Health Agency of Canada. “Fact sheet. Shingles (Herpes Zoster).” (2013), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/infectious-diseases/fact-sheet-shingles-herpes-zoster.html

2. Global News. “More Canadians are getting shingles, and researchers aren’t sure why.” (2018), online: https://globalnews.ca/news/4162231/shingles-rate-canada-research/

3. Government of Canada. “Herpes Zoster (Shingles) Vaccine: Canadian Immunization Guide.” (2018), online: read:https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-immunization-guide-part-4-active-vaccines/page-8-herpes-zoster-(shingles)-vaccine.html

4. National Advisory Committee on Immunization. “Updated recommendations on the use of Herpes Zoster vaccines.” (2018), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/health/publications/healthy-living/updated-recommendations-use-herpes-zoster-vaccines.html

5. Vancouver Coastal Health. “Travel Clinic Shingrix.” (2019), online: http://travelclinic.vch.ca/new-shingrix/

6. CBC Radio. “New shingles vaccine should be free, argues seniors advocate.” (2018), online: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-january-16-2018-1.4488140/new-shingles-vaccine-should-be-free-argues-seniors-advocate-1.4488175

7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Transmission. (2019), online: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/transmission.html