Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus - the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you have chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. It may not cause problems for many years. As you get older, the virus may reappear as shingles. Although it is most common in people over age 50, anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk.
You can't catch shingles from someone who has it. However, if you have a shingles rash, you can pass the virus to someone who has never had chickenpox. This would usually be a child, who could get chickenpox instead of shingles. The virus spreads through direct contact with the rash, and cannot spread through the air.
Early signs of shingles include burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching, usually on one side of the body or face. The pain can be mild to severe. Rashes or blisters appear anywhere from one to 14 days later. If shingles appears on your face, it may affect your vision or hearing. The pain of shingles may last for weeks, months, or even years after the blisters have healed.
There is no cure for shingles. Early treatment with medicines that fight the virus may help. These medicines may also help prevent lingering pain.
A vaccine may prevent shingles or lessen its effects. The vaccine is recommended for people 60 or over. In some cases doctors may give it to people ages 50 to 59.
NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Diagnosis and Tests
- Chickenpox and Shingles Tests (American Association for Clinical Chemistry)
Prevention and Risk Factors
- Shingles Transmission (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Sting of Shingles: Vaccine, Treatments Reduce Risks (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
- What Everyone Should Know about Zostavax (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Genetics Home Reference: shingles (National Library of Medicine)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
Find an Expert
- Find a Dermatologist (American Academy of Dermatology)
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Also in Spanish
- Post-herpetic neuralgia - aftercare (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Ramsay Hunt syndrome (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Shingles (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Shingles - aftercare (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Shingles Vaccine: What You Need to Know (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) - PDF