(Herpes Zoster)

Shingles Summary
Shingles (herpes zoster) is a skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Under certain circumstances, such as emotional stress, immune deficiency, or with cancer, the virus re-activates causing shingles. Shingles are catching and can spread from an infected person to others who have not had chickenpox. There are a variety of treatments for shingles.
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Shingles facts

  • Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox and can be spread to people who have not had chickenpox.
  • Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is not related to the herpes simplex viruses that cause sexually transmitted herpes or oral herpes.
  • Shingles may cause pain that can continue after the rash disappears.
  • Postherpetic neuralgia, or persistent pain after the rash has disappeared, is the most common complication of shingles.
  • Steroids and antiviral drugs can help prevent long-term pain after shingles if they are started within the first two days of the appearance of the rash.
  • The Zostavax vaccine is available for people over 60 years of age to reduce the incidence and severity of shingles.

What is shingles? What causes shingles?

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Shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster, is a skin rash caused by a nerve and skin inflammation from the same virus that previously caused chickenpox. It is a very common condition, affecting about one out of every three people in the U.S. at some point in life. This virus is called the varicella zoster virus (VZV) and belongs to the herpes family of viruses. After an individual has chickenpox, this virus lives dormant in the nervous system and is never fully cleared from the body. Under certain circumstances, such as emotional stress, immune deficiency (from AIDS or chemotherapy), or with cancer, the virus reactivates and causes shingles. In most cases of shingles, however, a cause for the reactivation of the virus is never found. Anyone who has ever had chickenpox is at risk for the development of shingles, although it occurs most commonly in people over the age of 60. It has been estimated that up to 1,000,000 cases of shingles occur each year in the U.S.

The herpes virus that causes shingles and chickenpox is not the same as the herpes viruses that causes genital herpes (which can be sexually transmitted) or herpes mouth sores.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/28/2013

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3 Ways to Treat Shingles

When you have the shingles rash, your doctor will likely prescribe you antiviral medications to help shorten the duration and severity of your shingles symptoms. Medications such as acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), and famciclovir (Famvir) are most effective when started within the first 3 days of the shingles rash.