What is shingles?

December 22, 2006 3:40am CST
Shingles is a viral condition resulting in a painful rash of small blisters on the body, often appearing in a band on the chest and back. It is caused by a virus called Varicella Zoster, the same one that causes chickenpox. After someone has chickenpox, this virus lies dormant in the spinal cord. If the virus reactivates there, it causes shingles. You can't catch shingles from someone with chickenpox. Shingles can affect adults and children but is much more common in older people, especially where their immune system has been weakened. Symptoms include an initial burning sensation on the skin followed after a few days by a rash of red spots which become blisters. The blisters later dry up, gradually forming scabs. Because the virus affects the nerves, the pain may continue for months or even years after the rash has cleared. If you recognise the symptoms of shingles you should visit your doctor immediately. There is no actual cure but early treatment can help reduce the severity of the symptoms. Shingles usually clears up on its own. But it can recur. Chickenpox can be immunised against but there's no evidence this will prevent shingles later in life.
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