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.
If you develop shingles, you will probably first notice a burning or tingling pain in a band or line along one side of your face or torso. About three days later, you’ll see a rash appear in the same area. The rash consists of fluid-filled bumps on reddened skin that eventually crust over and begin to dry. It usually takes about five weeks to recover from shingles. Some people take longer to recover and continue to have pain in the area of the rash. This complication, called postherpetic neuralgias, is due to nerve damage.
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.
NINDS shingles information page.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
website. Available at:
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/shingles/shingles.htm. Updated January 10, 2013. Accessed May 30, 2013.
The American Academy of Dermatology
website. Available at:
http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/q---t/shingles. Accessed May 30, 2013.
Shingles (herpes zoster). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html. Updated January 10, 2011. Accessed May 30, 2013.
Stankus SJ, Dlugopolski M, et al. Management of herpes zoster (shingles) and postherpetic neuralgia.
Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(8).
http://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0415/p2437.html. Accessed May 30, 2013.
Zoster. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 20, 2013. Accessed May 30, 2013.
Last reviewed May 2014 by David Horn, MD
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