Shingles Home > Is Shingles Life Threatening?

Is shingles life threatening? In most cases, the answer is no. However, patients with a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of developing serious complications (such as viral pneumonia or secondary bacterial infection). Left uncontrolled, these complications could become life threatening.

Is Shingles Life Threatening? -- An Overview

For most people, shingles is not a life-threatening condition. However, for people with a weakened immune system ("immunosuppressed" individuals), shingles can cause serious complications and can potentially be life-threatening.
 
Examples of people with a weakened immune system include those with HIV infection (or AIDS) or patients with cancer who are receiving treatments that can weaken their immune systems. These treatments destroy cancerous tissue, but unfortunately also have the potential to damage cells of the immune system that normally fight invading organisms.
 
Patients who receive transplants, such as a kidney transplant or stem cell transplant, are also vulnerable to shingles. To prevent the body from rejecting the foreign tissue of the transplant, these patients are given drugs that suppress the immune system.
 
Should any of these people contract shingles, there is a possibility that the varicella-zoster virus (the "shingles virus") will spread throughout the body, reaching vital organs like the lungs. If uncontrolled, such widespread infection can lead to death from viral pneumonia or secondary bacterial infection.
 
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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