What Is the Illness Called Shingles?

The Facts

Once you have had chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in nerve tissue. This virus can reactivate at any time as shingles.

Causes and Risk Factors

The reason the virus sometimes reactivates is unknown. You are more likely to develop shingles if you are over 50, have a weakened immune system or developed chickenpox before you were a year old.


Pain, burning or tingling may be experienced before there is a rash. A red rash begins a few days after the pain. Fluid-filled red blisters may break open. Some people experience itching, as well as fever, chills, achiness, fatigue and headache.


Shingles usually heals on its own within a few weeks. Antiviral drugs are most effective if prescribed within 72 hours of the first sign of a rash. Your doctor may prescribe pain medication if you experience severe pain.


If you have shingles, the virus can be spread to anyone who hasn't had chickenpox. Chickenpox can be dangerous to pregnant women, newborns or anyone with a weakened immune system.