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Conditions InDepth: Shingles

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).

Herpes Zoster Blisters
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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.

What are the risk factors for shingles?What are the symptoms of shingles?How is shingles diagnosed?What are the treatments for shingles?Are there screening tests for shingles?How can I reduce my risk of developing shingles?What questions should I ask my doctor?What is it like to live with shingles?Where can I get more information about shingles?

Revision Information

  • Herpes zoster. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 24, 2016. Accessed June 7, 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.

  • Shingles. 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.