What Causes Shingles?


If you had chickenpox as a child, there is the risk of getting shingles. Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Even after the chickenpox infection is over, the virus may lay dormant in your nervous system for years before reactivating as shingles. Most adults never develop shingles, but for some, the virus reactivates several times. Shingles is most common after the age of 50, but it can occur at any age.

There is no cure for shingles. But early treatment with antiviral drugs can lower the likelihood of complications, including pain that lasts after the rash is gone. Some serious complications are possible, especially when the rash is located in or near the eyes and ears.

Some people may experience a fever, chills, headache and fatigue. Some of the most common symptoms of shingles include:

  • a constant dull, burning, or gnawing pain, or a sharp, stabbing pain that comes and goes
  • a skin rash that resembles a chickenpox rash but only affects certain areas, usually on one side of the body
  • fluid-filled blisters that develop as part of the rash

Shingles is contagious. The virus can spread to someone who has not had chicken pox or the vaccine. It is recommended to avoid contact with pregnant women, newborn babies and people with weakened immune systems who may not have been vaccinated against chicken pox.

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