Shingles | Overview

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What is shingles?

Shingles is another name for a condition called "herpes zoster." It is an infection that results from the reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox (the varicella-zoster virus). Shingles causes a painful rash.

What is herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO)?

Herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO) is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox and shingles. When the virus involves the skin around the eye and the eye itself, it is called HZO. It is not the same virus that causes herpes simplex.

Can I give shingles or HZO to others?

No one can catch shingles or HZO from you. However, they can catch chickenpox if they haven't already had chickenpox or had the chickenpox vaccine. The varicella-zoster virus (which is the virus that causes chickenpox, shingles and HZO) lives in the blisters from shingles and HZO. The virus can be spread until the blisters are completely healed. If you have blisters that have not crusted over yet, you should stay away from anyone who has never had chickenpox, babies younger than 12 months of age, pregnant women and very sick patients (such as patients who have cancer or AIDS). If you live with children who have not had chickenpox, you should tell your doctor. They may need to be vaccinated.

What is postherpetic neuralgia?

Postherpetic neuralgia is the name used when the pain of shingles lasts for a long time after the rash is gone. About 10% of people who have shingles will develop postherpetic neuralgia. It is caused by damaged nerve fibers that send exaggerated pain messages from your skin to your brain.

Most people who develop postherpetic neuralgia get better with time. Almost all of them are free of pain within 1 year. However, a few people have chronic pain (pain that doesn't go away).

Bibliography

See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 04/14
Created: 09/00

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