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.
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.
Last reviewed June 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.