Varicella zoster virus (VZV) causes varicella (chickenpox), remains dormant in dorsal root and cranial nerve ganglia and can be reactivated as a consequence of declining VZV-specific cellular immunity leading to herpes zoster (shingles). Patients older than 50 years of age affected by herpes zoster may suffer a significant decrease of quality of life. These patients and immunocompromised individuals are at increased risks for severe complications, involving the eye, the peripheral and the central nervous system (prolonged pain, postherpetic neuralgia). Such complications occur with and without cutaneous symptoms. The German Dermatology Society (DDG) has released guidelines in order to guarantee updated management to anyone affected by herpes zoster. Diagnosis is primarily clinical. The gold standard of laboratory diagnosis comprises PCR and direct identification of VZV in cell cultures. Detection of IgM- and IgA-anti VZV antibodies may be helpful in immunocompromised patients. Therapy has become very effective in the last years. Systemic antiviral therapy is able to shorten the healing process of acute herpes zoster, to prevent or to alleviate pain and other acute and chronic complications, particularly, when given within 48 h to a maximum of 72 h after onset of the rash. Systemic antiviral therapy is urgently indicated in patients beyond the age of 50 years and in patients at any age with herpes zoster in the head and neck area, especially in patients with zoster ophthalmicus. Further urgent indications are severe herpes zoster on the trunk and on the extremities, herpes zoster in immunosuppressed patients and in patients with severe atopic dermatitis and severe ekzema. Only relative indications for antiviral therapy exist in patients younger than 50 years with zoster on the trunk and on the extremities. In Germany acyclovir, valacyclovir, famciclovir and brivudin are approved for the systemic antiviral treatment of herpes zoster. These compounds are all well tolerated by the patients and do not differ with regard to efficacy and safety. Brivudin has a markedly higher anti-VZV potency than oral acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir and thus offers a simpler dosing regimen. It must be given only once daily during 7 days in comparison to three and five times dosing per day of valacyclovir, famciclovir and acyclovir, respectively. Brivudin is an antiviral agent with no nephrotoxic properties, which is an advantage when compared to acyclovir. The most important aim of therapy of herpes zoster is to achieve painlessness. Appropriately dosed analgesics in combination with a neuroactive agent (i.e. amitriptylin) are very helpful when given together with antiviral therapy. The additive therapy with corticosteroids may shorten the degree and duration of acute zoster pain, but has no essential effect on the development of postherpetic neuralgia, which is a very difficult condition to treat. Thus early presentation to a pain therapist is recommended in specific cases.