Conditions InDepth: Shingles

Shingles (herpes zoster) is an infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (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 where the rash was previously. This complication, called postherpetic neuralgiais, is due to nerve damage.

Herpes Zoster Blisters

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About 20% of people who have had chickenpox will go on to develop shingles. Most people will have only a single bout of shingles. However, if you have a weakened immune system (from AIDS, cancer, or immunosuppressant drugs, for example) you may have repeated bouts.

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?


The American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: . Accessed February 21, 2006.

Stankus SJ, Dlugopolski M, Packer D. Management of herpes zoster (shingles) and postherpetic neuralgia. Am Fam Physician . 2000;61(8). Available at:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: . Accessed February 21, 2006.

Last reviewed August 2008 by Ross Zeltser, MD, FAAD

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.

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