Shingles is a painful rash caused by a viral infection. It can occur anywhere on your body, but typically shows up as a single strip of blisters around one side of your torso. Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that also causes chickenpox. If a person had chickenpox in the past, the virus lies inactive (dormant or sleeping) in the nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain and can reactivate as shingles at a later time. While shingles is not life-threatening, it can be very painful. Shingles generally lasts between two and six weeks. Most people who have shingles only get it once in their life, but it is possible to get it more than once.
Symptoms of shingles includes pain, burning, numbness, sensitivity to touch, red rash, fluid-filled blisters, and itching in the affected area. Some people experience fever, headache, sensitivity to light, and tiredness (fatigue) as well. Risk factors for shingles includes being older than 50, having certain diseases that weaken the immune system (like HIV or cancer), undergoing cancer treatments, and taking medications that weaken your immune system. Vaccines are available which may decrease your risk of shingles.
Your doctor can diagnose shingles by examining the affected area. A sample of affected tissue may be collected and tested to confirm the diagnosis. There is no cure for shingles, but quick treatment with medications that treat viruses (antiviral medications) can speed up the healing process and reduce complications. Your doctor can also provide medications that reduce the pain caused by shingles. If you are diagnosed with shingles, talk with your doctor about the current treatment recommendations.