Shingles Rash, Symptoms, Vaccine Facts

September 2018

Shingles is a virus condition involving inflammation of sensory nerves that can result in severe pain. It causes localized pain, numbness, and itching, followed by the appearance of clustered blisters in a strip pattern on one side of the body. Sometimes the pain can persist for weeks, months, or years after the rash heals (known as postherpetic neuralgia). The term “shingles” is derived from the Latin word cingulum, meaning girdle — the idea being that shingles often girdles part of the body.

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella-zoster virus or VZV), a member of the herpes family of viruses. After a person has chickenpox, the virus can live dormant in the nervous system for life. Sometimes the virus remains dormant forever, but in other cases, the virus reactivates along a nerve of sensation.

Causes of Shingles Virus Reactivation

  • Disease
  • Stress
  • Aging

Each of these factors can weaken the immune system, resulting in shingles. However, usually a cause for the reactivation of the virus is never found. If the virus reactivates, it can only cause shingles, and does not cause widespread chickenpox again.

The shingles rash appears as painful skin blisters that appear on only one side of the face or body along the distribution of nerves in the skin. The rash may occur around the chest, upper back, abdomen, face, the limbs, neck, or lower back.

Shingles is most common in people over 60 years of age, although anyone who has ever had chickenpox is at risk.