8 misconceptions about shingles

by | March 13, 2024

A dermatologist shares the reality and what you need to know.


A rash on one part of the body.

There are a number of misconceptions and myths when it comes to shingles, an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chicken pox. With the help of Dr Tan Hiok Hee, a dermatologist from Thompson Specialist Skin Centre, he debunks some of the common misconceptions:


Misconception 1: Only older adults get shingles.

Reality: While shingles is more common in older adults, it can affect people of all ages, including children. However, the risk of shingles increases with age.


Misconception 2: Shingles is just an adult chicken pox rash.

 Reality: Shingles is not an adult chicken pox, it is the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus the and is not chicken pox. You get the infection in a localised manner covering just one part of the body.


Misconception 3: Shingles is just a skin rash.

Reality: Shingles is more than just a rash. It often involves severe pain, itching, burning and tingling sensations along with a characteristic rash. It can also lead to complications, including postherpetic neuralgia, which causes persistent pain. It can also lead to skin infections and scarring. More importantly, vital nerves or organs can be involved, leading to eye complications, muscle weakness or neurological symptoms.


Misconception 4: Shingles vaccine is only for those who have had shingles before.

 Reality: The shingles vaccine is recommended for adults over a certain age (typically 50 or 60, depending on the country’s guidelines) to reduce the risk of developing shingles, even if they have never had the condition. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Currently in Singapore, there are two vaccines available – Zostervax (live vaccine) (one does and is not recommended for immunocompromised persons and those with a history of anaphylaxis) and Shringrix (non-live vaccine) (it is two doses and is not recommended for persons with a history of anaphylaxis).)


Stages of the rash.

Misconception 5: There’s no treatment for shingles.

Reality: Shingles can be treated with antiviral medications to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. Pain management strategies and other medications may also be prescribed. Early treatment is essential for better outcomes.


Misconception 6: Once shingles has encircled the body making a circle, you will die.

 Reality: This is not true. It is a painful disease but it rarely causes death, only in very extreme cases.


Misconception 7: Shingles is contagious/infectious.

Reality: Shingles itself is not highly contagious/infections. You cannot catch shingles from someone with shingles. However, if you’ve never had chicken pox or the chicken pox vaccine, you could potentially catch chicken pox from someone with shingles if you come into direct contact with their open sores. Shingles can spread via direct contact with the fluid in the blisters, but only to individuals without a past history of chicken pox or chicken pox vaccination. This affected individual will develop chickenpox, not shingles. Hence, direct contact with the blisters should be avoided in general, especially by individuals without a past history of chicken pox or chicken pox vaccination, or pregnant women or persons with a compromised immune system (e.g. patients undergoing chemotherapy).


Misconception 8: Shingles can’t be prevented.

Reality: There are ways to prevent shingles, including getting the vaccine. You should reach out to your doctor to start a conversation on how you can prevent shingles.


You can learn more about shingles symptoms, causes and complications here: www.stopshingles.com/shingles-causes-symptoms-complications.




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