- Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus.
- This virus also causes the common childhood disease chickenpox. After a person has chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus lies dormant in their nerves.
- For unknown reasons, the virus may reactivate later in life and shingles will appear.
Who gets Shingles?
Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles. Shingles is more common in persons with depressed immune systems and in persons over the age of 50, but it can also occur in children. Typically, the symptoms in children are milder than in adults. People with weakened immune systems may have more severe disease.
How is Shingles spread?
- Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. However, the virus that causes shingles, the varicella zoster virus, can spread from a person with active shingles to cause chickenpox in someone who had never had chickenpox or received chickenpox vaccine.
- The virus is spread through direct contact with fluid from the rash blisters caused by shingles.
- A person with active shingles can spread the virus when the rash is in the blister-phase. A person is not infectious before the blisters appear. Once the rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer infectious.
- Shingles is less contagious than chickenpox and the risk of a person with shingles spreading the virus is low if the rash is covered.
- Shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. The rash consists of blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days. The rash usually clears up within 2 to 4 weeks.
- Before the rash develops, people often have pain, itching, or tingling in the area where the rash will develop. This may happen anywhere from 1 to 5 days before the rash appears.
- Most commonly, the rash occurs in a single stripe around either the left or the right side of the body. In other cases, the rash occurs on one side of the face. In rare cases (usually among people with weakened immune systems), the rash may be more widespread and look similar to a chickenpox rash. Shingles can affect the eye and cause loss of vision.
- Other symptoms of shingles can include:
- Upset stomach
- Several antiviral medicines—acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir—are available to treat shingles and shorten the length and severity of illness. People with shingles should start taking these medicines as soon as possible after the rash appears to be the most effective.
- People who have, or think they might have, shingles should call their healthcare provider as soon as possible to discuss treatment options.
- Analgesics (pain medicine) may help relieve the pain caused by shingles. Wet compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths may help relieve some of the itching.
The only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles and the long-term pain from post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) is to get vaccinated. CDC recommends that people aged 60 years and older get one dose of shingles vaccine. Shingles vaccine is available in pharmacies and doctor’s offices. Talk with your healthcare professional if you have questions about shingles vaccination.