Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body. Usually the virus does not cause any problems. However, the virus can reappear years later, causing red patches of tiny blisters to break out on the skin.
Before the rash develops, there is often pain, itching, or tingling in a localized area on one side of the body. In the same area, small blisters and redness develop. The blisters scab after about 5 days. Occasionally, there is also a low grade fever, stomach upset, or headache.
The chickenpox virus (VZV) is present in blisters of shingles. People with shingles can give chickenpox to anyone who has not had chickenpox or has not been vaccinated for chickenpox. Once the rash has developed crusts, the person is no longer contagious. People with shingles should keep the rash covered, not touch or scratch the rash, and wash their hands often to prevent the spread of VZV.
See your doctor immediately to get on medication that will help shorten the duration and severity of the illness. Several medicines, acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), and famciclovir (Famyir) are effective at treating shingles. Pain medicine may also help.