Viral infection that causes a painful rash

Shingles can occur anywhere on your body, it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or the right side of your torso.

Scientific Classification

Subfamily Alphaherpesvirinae

Genus Varicellovirus

Species Human herpesvirus 3

Historical Background

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is caused by the Varicella zoster virus. Shingles can develop only after the initial infection with chickenpox, or, more uncommonly, after vaccination for chickenpox. The virus can be reactivated and cause symptoms many years after the initial infection (or vaccination). In the late 18th century, William Heberden established a way to differentiate between herpes zoster (shingles) and smallpox. Until the 1940s, the disease was considered benign, and serious complications were thought to be very rare. But, by 1942, it was recognized that herpes zoster was a more serious disease in adults than in children, and that it increased in frequency with advancing age.


A person with shingles can pass the varicella-zoster virus to anyone who isn't immune to chickenpox, usually through direct contact with the open sores of the shingles rash. The person can, however, develop chickenpox instead. Until your shingles blisters scab over, you are contagious and should avoid physical contact with:
  • Anyone who has a weak immune system
  • Newborns
  • Pregnant women


  • Pain, burning, numbness or tingling
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • A red rash that begins a few days after the pain
  • Fluid-filled blisters that break open and crust over
  • Itching
Some people also experience:
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Fatigue


There is no cure, but prescription antiviral drugs can speed healing and reduce your risk of complications and ease pain. It generally lasts between two and six weeks. Some antiviral drugs include:
  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)
  • Famciclovir (Famvir)
  • Creams and ointments


The varicella vaccine (Varivax) has become a routine childhood immunization to prevent chickenpox. The FDA has approved the use of the varicella-zoster vaccine (Zostavax) for adults age 50 and older. Getting vaccinated doesn't mean you will not get shingles but it can reduce your chances of complications and reduce the severity of the disease.


Shingles generally lasts between two and six weeks. Most people get shingles only once, but it is possible to get it two or more times. During that time the infected person will feel severe pain near nerve endings, but long term damage is uncommon. Some complications, however, include:
  • Postherpetic neuralgia- For some people, shingles pain continues long after the blisters have cleared causing postherpetic neuralgia, which occurs when damaged nerve fibers send confused and exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain
  • Vision loss- Shingles in or around an eye (ophthalmic shingles) can cause painful eye infections that may result in vision loss
  • Neurological problems- Depending on which nerves are affected
  • Skin infections- If shingles blisters aren't properly treated, bacterial skin infections may develop


  1. Shingles can occur at any age, but it is most common in people over age 60 and in people with weakened immune systems.
  2. Shingles can recur, although most people who experience shingles have it just once in their lifetime.
  3. About 1 million cases of shingles occur in the United States each year.
  4. Home Remedy: Taking a cool bath or using cool, wet compresses on your blisters may help relieve the itching and pain. And, if possible, try to reduce the amount of stress in your life.