COVID-19 and shingles are both viral infections. Though COVID-19 does not cause shingles, there may be a link between the two conditions.

COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease that a person can develop if they acquire the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Evidence suggests that people with a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of developing severe symptoms of this infection.

Shingles is a common viral infection that a person can develop if the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) reactivates. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles causes a painful rash that typically appears on one side of the face or body. The rash causes blisters that typically scab over in 7–10 days and clear up within 2–4 weeks.

In this article, we will explain the links between COVID-19 and shingles. It also discusses the causes and risk factors for both conditions and outlines possible treatments.

Coronavirus data

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on COVID-19.

Was this helpful?
A person walking-2.Share on Pinterest
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Shingles occurs due to a different virus from COVID-19. This means COVID-19 does not directly cause shingles. However, there may be some links between COVID-19 and shingles.

A 2022 retrospective study compared 394,677 people over the age of 50 years who had contracted COVID-19 with those who had not yet had COVID-19. The study found that a COVID-19 diagnosis in people over 50 years old was associated with a significantly increased risk of developing shingles.

The study found that people aged 50 years or older with COVID-19 had a 15% higher risk of developing shingles than those without COVID-19.

If a person has had chickenpox, they can develop shingles later in life. This is because the VZV remains dormant in their body and can reactivate later, causing shingles.

A person’s immune system prevents shingles from developing by continually tackling the VZV. Maintaining sufficient levels of VZV-specific T-cell immunity is important for suppressing shingles.

The study states that an infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus can result in T-cell immune dysfunction, which may trigger the latent VZV reactivation, causing shingles.

More research is necessary to determine whether there is a link between COVID-19 and shingles.

COVID-19 occurs due to an infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. COVID-19 can cause varying degrees of illness. There are a number of factors that can increase a person’s risk of becoming more ill from COVID-19. Some of these include:

  • Age: Older adults are at a higher risk of worse outcomes if they develop COVID-19.
  • Being immunocompromised: If a person has a weakened immune system, they are more likely to get sick with COVID-19 or be sick for a longer period. Common causes of a weakened immune system include:
  • Asthma: People with moderate to severe or uncontrolled asthma are more likely to require treatment in the hospital if they develop COVID-19.
  • Pregnancy: If a person is pregnant or has recently been pregnant, they are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19 compared with people who are not pregnant.

The VZV causes shingles. It can lay dormant in a person’s body after the initial infection and reactivate in the future, causing shingles to develop.

If a person already has the VZV inside their body, then factors such as age and a weakened immune system can increase their risk of developing shingles.

Around 80% of people who get COVID-19 do not require treatment at the hospital. These individuals may be able to manage their condition at home. These people may wish to try:

  • getting rest
  • drinking lots of fluids
  • using over-the-counter (OTC) medications for fever
  • using OTC medications for pain relief
  • isolating from others, including those in the same house

If a person experiences severe symptoms of COVID-19, they may require treatment in a hospital. A doctor may decide to use antiviral medications. These medications target specific parts of the virus. This can stop it from multiplying in the body, which can prevent severe illness and death.

There are a number of steps a person can take to help prevent COVID-19. These include:

  • staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations
  • improving ventilation in the home and place of work
  • spending more time outdoors
  • avoiding contact with people who have COVID-19
  • wearing masks or respirators in public
  • avoiding crowded areas and keeping distance from other people

A person can use antiviral medications to shorten the length and severity of shingles. A person may also use OTC pain medications or prescription pain medications to help relieve pain.

If a person’s shingles are itchy, they can use the following treatments to reduce itchiness:

A person can help prevent shingles by getting the shingles vaccine. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) states that the vaccine is over 90% effective at preventing shingles.

If a person has shingles, they can reduce their risk of spreading it to others by:

  • staying away from people who have not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine
  • staying away from people who have a weakened immune system
  • keeping their shingles rash covered
  • avoiding touching or scratching their shingles rash
  • washing their hands often

A person should speak with their doctor as soon as possible if they think they have shingles. The NIA states that it is important for a person to contact their doctor no later than 3 days after their rash starts.

This is so the doctor can confirm the diagnosis and make a treatment plan. There is no cure for shingles, but if a person receives early treatment with antiviral medications, it may clear up their rash faster and limit pain.

If a person has COVID-19 and experiences severe symptoms, they should seek emergency medical care. Severe symptoms include:

  • trouble breathing
  • persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • new confusion
  • the inability to wake or stay awake
  • skin, lips, or nail beds that are:
    • pale
    • gray
    • blue

COVID-19 and shingles are both viral infections. COVID-19 occurs due to an infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Shingles occurs due to an infection with the VZV.

COVID-19 does not directly cause shingles, but there may be a link between the two conditions. Studies suggest that having COVID-19 may increase a person’s risk of developing shingles, due to how the SARS-CoV-2 virus may affect the immune system.