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Facts About...

Shingles


What is it?

Shingles (herpes-zoster) is an infection caused by a virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. It occurs only in people who have been exposed or infected with chickenpox in the past. The virus stays in the body and may cause shingles later in life. Most people who have shingles have only one episode of the disease in their lifetime. Those with a low immune system may have repeated attacks. Shingles occurs more often in older adults.

How is it spread?

Contact with someone who has shingles may cause chickenpox in another who has not had chickenpox before. It is spread from person to person by direct contact with lesions, and indirectly by articles freshly soiled by discharge from lesions. Lesions should be covered to avoid spread. Shingles in one person cannot cause shingles in another person.

What do I look for?

The first sign of shingles is often pain, itching or tingling in the area where the rash will develop, followed by a rash that appears as a band or patch of raised bumps on one side of the body. The rash then develops into small, fluid-filled blisters, which contain the virus and are contagious.

How is it treated?

Shingles can often be treated with an anti-viral medicine prescribed by a health care provider. This medicine can improve healing time, and reduce the number of new blisters, pain, and the length of time that it is contagious. It may also help reduce pain that remains after the rash has gone. Other medications may also be given by a health care provider to help relieve that type of pain.

Shingles usually clears on its own within a few weeks. Over-the-counter pain relievers may also help with pain.

How can I protect myself?

August 2014