Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infection caused by the same virus that causes
chickenpox—the varicella-zoster virus. Even decades after you’ve recovered from chickenpox, inactive copies of the varicella-zoster virus live within your nerves. If these viruses become reactivated, then you develop shingles.
Contact with a person who has shingles could lead to chickenpox in someone who has never had chickenpox and has not received the varicella vaccine.
Shingles starts with a burning or tingling sensation. A rash with fluid-filled bumps will appear a few days later. These will eventually crust over and dry out. It takes about 5 weeks to recover from shingles. In some people, nerve damage causes continued pain in the area of the rash (postherpetic neuralgia).
About 20% of people who have had chickenpox will develop shingles. Most people will have only a single episode of shingles. However, if you have a weakened immune system, then you may have more than one episode.
Herpes zoster. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113997/Herpes-zoster. Updated September 19, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.
NINDS shingles information page.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
website. Available at:
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/shingles/shingles.htm. Updated February 5, 2016. Accessed June 7, 2016.
The American Academy of Dermatology
website. Available at:
https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/shingles. Accessed June 7, 2016.
Shingles (herpes zoster). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html. Updated March 15, 2016. Accessed June 7, 2016.
Stankus SJ, Dlugopolski M, Packer D. Management of herpes zoster (shingles) and postherpetic neuralgia.
Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(8):2437-2444.
Last reviewed June 2016 by James Cornell, MD
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