Age, gender, race, and general health make the list of potential risk factors for shingles.
Virtually every person born prior to 1980 in the United States was infected with the highly contagious varicella zoster virus (VZV) before an effective vaccine was available. The virus causes varicella (chickenpox) and then settles into the dorsal root ganglia, where it remains dormant for decades before reactivating as herpes zoster (shingles). Consequently, almost every adult American is at risk for developing the painful condition.
There are various factors, however, that increase an individual’s risk for shingles. Some are related to a decline in VZV-specific immunity, but there are other reasons as well, including:
Vaccination is the best way to reduce the chances of developing shingles. Shingrix is currently the only shingles vaccine distributed in the United States.
Approved by the FDA in 2017 for people age 50 and over, Shingrix is a nonliving vaccine made of a virus component. It is administered in 2 doses given 2 to 6 months apart.
Shingrix offers protection against shingles for more than 5 years and has proven to be over 90% effective across all target age groups. It has also been shown to reduce the length and severity of the infection, and lower the risk of complications.
Zostavax, the first available shingles vaccine, was removed from distribution in the United States by Merck in July 2020. The CDC recommends that patients who have previously received Zostavax should subsequently receive Shingrix. Providers are advised to consider the patient’s age and time since receipt of Zostavax to determine when to vaccinate with Shingrix, although the minimum interval should be 8 weeks.2