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.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
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
stress, immune deficiency (from
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.
herpes virus that causes shingles and
chickenpox is not the same as the herpes viruses that causes
genital herpes (which can be sexually transmitted)
Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR on 8/28/2013
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.