Shingles (Herpes Zoster)

What it is: Shingles is a painful skin rash, often with blisters.  It is also called Herpes Zoster and it is caused by the Varicella Zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.  Only someone who has had chickenpox, or rarely, the chickenpox vaccine, can get shingles. 

How it spreads:  Shingles can not be transmitted to another person.  However, a person who has NOT had chickenpox (or chickenpox vaccine) could get chickenpox from someone with shingles.  This is not very common.   The Herpes Zoster virus stays in your body after the chickenpox, and can cause shingles many years later. When the immune system is weak because of a disease such as cancer, or drugs such as steroids or chemotherapy, the virus appears as a case of shingles.

What it causes:  A shingles rash usually appears on one side of the face or body and lasts from 2-4 weeks.  The main symptom is pain, which can be quite severe.  About 20% of persons who get shingles can suffer from severe pain, called post-herpetic neuralgia that can last long after the rash is gone.

What to do:  Seek care from your medical provider.  Sometimes anti-viral medications can lessen the severity of shingles.  Prevention is offered from the shingles vaccine.  Even if you have had a case of shingles in the past, you should receive the vaccine.  Recommendation for the vaccine includes ALL persons age 60 years and older should receive a single dose of the vaccine.