Shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. The rash consists of blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and fully clears up within 2 to 4 weeks. Shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in his or her body. The virus can reactivate later, causing shingles. Before the rash appears, people often have pain, itching, or tingling in the area where it will develop. This may happen several days before the rash appears. The rash generally occurs in a single stripe around the torso, on either the left or right side. The symptoms appear on one side of the face in certain situations. Shingles on the face can cause vision loss by affecting the eye. The rashes may be more extensive over the body and replicate a chickenpox rash in rare situations (typically in patients with compromised immune systems).
Ways to prevent spreading of shingles to others:
- Cover the rash
- Avoid touching or scratching the rash
- Wash your hands often
- Avoid contact with the following people until your rash crusts:
- Pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine
- Premature or low birth weight infants
- People with weakened immune systems, such as people receiving immunosuppressive medications or undergoing chemotherapy, organ transplant recipients, and people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.
People who have greater risk of getting shingles:
- Have medical conditions that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as certain cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Receive drugs that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as steroids and drugs that are given after organ transplantation
Shingles risk increases with age. The most popular shingles complication is long-term nerve pain known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). PHN evolves in the same regions as the shingles rash and can last for months or years after the rash has fully recovered. PHN pain can be excruciating and incapacitating. People with weakened immune systems also have a higher risk of getting shingles and complications from the disease.