Shingles is painful, unpredictable and can affect anyone!

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08.07.2019 08:00 Europe/Zurich

Lucerne, Monday, July 8, 2019. Every fourth person will have suffered from shingles at some point by the age of 80.3,4 Who this will be, we cannot know.2 The Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) recommends vaccinations against the shingles virus for all persons aged between 65 and 79.5

Is shingles widespread?

Shingles affects Swiss over-50s to a significant degree.6 In Switzerland there are an estimated 30,000 cases of shingles each year.7

Who can get shingles?

Anyone who has had the varicella-zoster virus (chickenpox) can get shingles. This is 96% of all adults.8-10 Once the disease has been overcome, the varicellazoster virus travels along the nervous pathways and remain dormant in nerve cells in the spinal cord, where it can be reactivated in later age.5,8-9

Persons with a diminished immune system are at particular risk.11,12

  • The elderly
  • Persons whose immune system has been compromised temporarily or as a result of disease, for example due to chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, COPD and depression.

How does shingles manifest itself?

Shingles manifests itself as a painful skin rash, usually on one side of the body, running like a belt around the body (hence the name – the word shingles is derived from the Latin “cingulum”, meaning belt).5 One of the most common complications is pain known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).13,14

Once the skin rash has healed, the nervous pain can last for months or even years.2 The patient suffers from a constantly throbbing or stabbing pain.14 In severe cases, shingles can even lead to blindness, loss of hearing, temporary paralysis or mental diseases, which incur significant additional costs.2

The Federal Office of Public Health recommends vaccinating against shingles

In Switzerland the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) recommends vaccination against shingles for persons aged between 65 and 79 as well as individuals with compromised immune systems from the age of 50.5 The costs for this vaccination are reimbursed by most health insurers through supplementary insurance policies.

Please visit for more information on shingles


  1. Gnann JW Jr, Whitley RJ. Clinical practise. Herpes zoster. N Engl J Med. 2002;347(5):340–346
  2. Harpaz R et al. Prevention of herpes zoster: recommendations of The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR Recomm Rep. 2008;57(RR-5):1– 30.
  3. Miller E, Marshall R, Vurdien J. Epidemiology, outcome and control of varicella-zoster infection. Rev Med Microbiol. 1993;4:222–30.
  4. Bowsher D. The lifetime occurrence of herpes zoster and prevalence of postherpetic neuralgia: A retrospective survey in an elderly population. Eur J Pain. 1999;3(4):335–42.
  5. Bundesamt für Gesundheit (BAG): BAG Bulletin 48/2017: Empfehlungen zur Impfung gegen Herpes Zoster/«Gürtelrose»
  6. Forbes HJ et al. Quantification of risk factors for herpes zoster: population based casecontrol study. BMJ. 2014 (13);348:g2911
  7. Eckert N. et al. Varizellen und Herpes Zoster. Ein Virus, zwei Krankheiten und aktuelleImpfempfehlungen in der Schweiz. Therapeutische Umschau. 2016;73:247 – 252
  8. Kimberlin D et al. Varicella-Zoster Vaccine for the Prevention of Herpes Zoster. N Engl J Med. 2007;356:1338–43.
  9. Arvin A. Aging, immunity, and the varicella-zoster virus. N Engl J Med. 2005;352(22):2266–2267.
  10. Schweizer Impfplan 2018. Bundesamt für Gesundheit und Eidgenössische Kommission für Impffragen, Richtlinien und Empfehlungen, Stand 2018.
  11. Forbes HJ et al. Quantification of risk factors for herpes zoster: population based casecontrol study. BMJ. 2014 (13);348:g2911
  12. Guignard AP et al. Risk of herpes zoster among diabetics: a matched cohort study in a US insurance claim database before introduction of vaccination, 1997-2006. Infection. 2014;42(4):729–35.
  13. Lukas K., Edte A. Bertrand I. The impact of herpes zoster and post-herpetic neuralgia on quality of life: patient-reported outcomes in six European countries, 2011. J Public Health. 2012;20:441–451.
  14. Johnson RW. Consequences and management of pain in herpes zoster. J Infect Dis. 2002;186(Suppl1):S83–90.

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