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Conditions InDepth: Shingles

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infection. It starts with a burning or tingling feeling. A rash with fluid-filled bumps will appear a few days later. These will crust over and dry out. It takes about 5 weeks to get better. In some people, there can be lasting pain in the site of the rash.

Causes

Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). VZV is same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles most often occurs in people who have had chickenpox. The virus never fully leaves the body. Some of it settles in nerve roots. Shingles happens when the virus becomes active again. It may become active due to weakening of the immune system. Once active, the virus travels along nerve paths to the skin where it can cause a rash.

Shingles does not pass from one person to another. The virus itself can pass from someone with shingles. It may cause chickenpox in someone who has never had chickenpox or the vaccine.

Herpes Zoster Blisters

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About 1 in 3 people who have had chickenpox will get shingles. Most people will only get it once. Those with a weakened immune system may get it more than once.

REFERENCES:

About shingles (herpes zoster). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/index.html. Accessed November 15, 2021.

Herpes zoster. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/herpes-zoster. Accessed November 15, 2021.

Shingles information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Shingles-Information-Page. Accessed November 15, 2021.

Shingles overview. The American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/shingles-overview. Accessed November 15, 2021.

Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 11/15/2021