Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus - the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you have chickenpox, the virus stays in your body. It may not cause problems for many years. As you get older, the virus may reappear as shingles. Although it is most common in people over age 50, anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk.
You can't catch shingles from someone who has it. However, if you have a shingles rash, you can pass the virus to someone who has never had chickenpox. This would usually be a child, who could get chickenpox instead of shingles. The virus spreads through direct contact with the rash, and cannot spread through the air.
Early signs of shingles include burning or shooting pain and tingling or itching, usually on one side of the body or face. The pain can be mild to severe. Rashes or blisters appear anywhere from one to 14 days later. If shingles appears on your face, it may affect your vision or hearing. The pain of shingles may last for weeks, months, or even years after the blisters have healed.
There is no cure for shingles. Early treatment with medicines that fight the virus may help. These medicines may also help prevent lingering pain.
A vaccine may prevent shingles or lessen its effects. The vaccine is recommended for people 60 or over. In some cases doctors may give it to people ages 50 to 59.
NIH: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
- JAMA Patient Page: Shingles (American Medical Association) Available in Spanish
- Shingles (American Academy of Family Physicians) Available in Spanish
- Shingles (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) - Short Summary
- Shingles (Herpes Zoster) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Available in Spanish
- Shingles: Hope through Research (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) Available in Spanish
- Shingles Transmission (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Shingles Vaccination: What You Need to Know (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Shingles Vaccine: Should I Get It? (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
- Sting of Shingles: Vaccine, Treatments Reduce Risks (National Institutes of Health)
Treatments and Therapies
- Shingles: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Outcome (American Academy of Dermatology)
- Shingles: Tips for Managing (American Academy of Dermatology)
- Shingles: Who Gets and Causes (American Academy of Dermatology)
Journal ArticlesReferences and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
Find an Expert
- American Academy of Dermatology
- Find a Dermatologist (American Academy of Dermatology)
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Available in Spanish