Herpes zoster

What is shingles?

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a viral infection that causes a painful, tender rash most commonly on the right or left side of the torso. Shingles can also occur on the face, eyes, and genitals. Shingles is not life-threatening, but it can cause a lot of pain and discomfort.

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a viral infection that causes a painful rash.

What are the symptoms of shingles?

The first signs of shingles are usually pain in the skin area, headache and general discomfort. A few days after these symptoms, a rash will appear. The shingles rash is red, blotchy and appears only on one side of the body. The red spots develop into small blisters that itch and ooze fluid. Eventually these blisters dry up and form small scabs. Even after the rash has disappeared, the affected skin area may still be painful. The rash may take up to 4 weeks to heal.

Other symptoms that may be experienced with shingles include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Fever

What causes shingles?

Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles as the virus remains in their nervous system, lying dormant for years. If the virus reactivates, it moves along the nerve pathways causing shingles. Shingles is not contagious for people who have had chickenpox.

For people who have not had chickenpox, exposure to shingles can cause them to get chickenpox. This can be dangerous in the elderly, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems.