Shingles: A Painful Rash

Tanicia Haynes with Occupational Health discusses Shingles with Dr. Bill Schaffner, Professor of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Health Policy and Professor of Infectious Diseases. ​

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Tanicia Haynes:  Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast.  I am Tanicia Haynes with Occupational Health.  Today, we are speaking with Dr. Bill Schaffner, Professor of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Health Policy and a Professor of Infectious Disease, about shingles.  Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed.

Dr. Bill Schaffner:  Oh, good to be with you, Tanicia.

Tanicia Haynes:  So, kind of to get into it, I know many people have heard about shingles before, but could you give us a brief explanation of what shingles actually is?

Dr. Bill Schaffner:  Shingles is interesting.  We are going to start with the concept of chickenpox.  You know, we all know about chickenpox.  Most of us, when we were younger, got chickenpox and then we got all over it, but what happened is, although we got over the illness, the chickenpox virus stayed in our bodies, if you can imagine.  And think of a bear hibernating in the winter.  This virus hibernates in our body and now, 10, 20, even 30 years later, the bear can wake up.  The virus wakes up for reasons we don't understand completely ... but the virus wakes up and then comes out and creates lesions on our body, usually in a segment of our body, and the virus comes out, the lesions are on our body, and it can be painful.  So, you can have a stripe on your body with redness and these chickenpox-like blisters that's very painful, and if it's on your trunk somewhere, it kind of looked to somebody years ago as though it were a shingle on a roof, and so, that's why we call it "shingles."  Now, if it's on your face, it can be dangerous, because it can actually involve your eye and impair your vision aside from looking gross for about a week or two.  Now, this, too, will go away, usually in a week, week and a half, but the pain can continue and you can have what we call "post shingles pain" that can really disturb people's lives for a long time.  We could go on and on about that, but I assure you, both acute shingles and this post shingles pain is something that you would like to prevent.

Tanicia Haynes:  If I broke out in shingles, am I going to give it somebody if they, like, touch my rash, or is it something that is transmitted to other people when you have shingles?

Dr. Bill Schaffner:  Could happen generally in the population but only once in a blue moon; however, within the hospital setting, we are particularly concerned about that because it might be transmitted to an immunocompromised patient, and particularly, in the neonatal intensive care unit where those babies are born, all susceptible, and are very vulnerable.  So, we have rules within the Occupational Health Service and Infection Control about if you have shingles, whether or not you can work and how to do that.

Tanicia Haynes:  Now, is there a way to prevent me from developing shingles?

Dr. Bill Schaffner:  You bet, and this is important.  There is kind of old news.  There used to be a shingles vaccine.  Many people received it.  But now there is shingles vaccine 2.0, a new one.  It's trade name is called Shingrix, and although the first vaccine that we used for a long time was good, this one is even better, and the CDC actually says it's preferred.  Here is who is eligible for the vaccine:  If you are 50 and older and you are not immunocompromised, the CDC says you should get this vaccine.  As regards to immunocompromised persons, the CDC is still looking at the data and it will make recommendations later this year or probably early next year.  So, stay tuned.  Now, another question - those of us who have received the previous shingles vaccine ... should we also receive this new one?  And the answer is yes.  The new one is a two-dose vaccine.  We get the first dose now and the second dose within a couple of months.  It's different than the first vaccine.  The first vaccine was very easy to take.  This one, I am going to tell you, likely will make your arm sore for a day or two, or even three.  That's easy to endure and is much better than getting shingles, I assure you.  And remember, it's a two-dose series.  I know your arm is going to get sore but come back for the second dose.  That's very necessary to give you complete and long-term protection.  You'll have to go to your primary care doctor to get this vaccine.

Tanicia Haynes:  Well, thank you so much.  This is all helpful information for many of us that have developed shingles or that have family members or just that have questions about whether or not we are possibly going to develop shingles in the future.  Thank you so much for giving us this information.

Dr. Bill Schaffner:  My pleasure.  One last thought - if we are all fortunate enough to live to age 80, the statistics show that at least, at least half of us will actually experience shingles.  So, this is important for all of us to consider.

Tanicia Haynes:  Great.  That is good information to have.  Thank you so much, Dr. Schaffner.

Dr. Bill Schaffner:  My pleasure.

Tanicia Haynes:  Thanks for listening.   If you have a story suggestion, please email it to us at or you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website at