Background Bortezomib has significant activity in treating multiple myeloma (MM). The risk of herpes zoster (HZ) has been reported to increase significantly with bortezomib treatment, but the predisposing factors for HZ are not clear. This study is a retrospective analysis of the relevant risk factors for HZ in Korean MM patients treated with bortezomib. Methods Sixty-six patients with refractory or relapsed MM who underwent chemotherapy with bortezomib were included in the study. Prophylactic antiviral drugs were not used for treatment. The following parameters were reviewed: age, gender, stage and type of MM, extent of previous treatment, history of HZ, duration from the time of diagnosis to the time of bortezomib treatment initiation, and absolute lymphocyte counts (ALC) at the time of bortezomib treatment initiation. Results The incidence of HZ was 16.7%. There were no intergroup differences between the HZ-positive and the HZ-negative groups with regard to a history of HZ, number of previous treatments, and exposure to steroids before bortezomib treatment. The median duration from the time of MM diagnosis to the time of bortezomib treatment initiation in the HZ-positive group was significantly shorter than that in the HZ-negative group. The median ALC at the time of bortezomib initiation in the HZ-positive group was significantly lower than that in the HZ-negative group. Conclusion Bortezomib itself might act as a risk factor for HZ by inhibiting cell-mediated immunity, and patients with low ALC at the time of bortezomib treatment initiation were at greater risk of HZ during bortezomib treatment.