What Are Shingles?

What Are Shingles?

Shingles are often referred to as the adult form of chickenpox. However, while chickenpox is most often an uncomplicated, mild illness accompanied by red spots (poxes), the adult form can be very painful. It can lead to serious complications, such as blindness, loss of hearing, and nerve damage. It can also be fatal in rare cases.


Like the childhood version of the illness, shingles come with a rash, which is part of a viral infection. Technically, shingles is a form of herpes that is created by the herpes zoster virus.


Essentially, chickenpox is the first manifestation of the herpes zoster virus. After that passes, the virus goes into remission. Years later, it reappears in the form of shingles, which is usually more severe than the original manifestation. Scientists do not have an explanation as to why the illness goes into remission and reappears later.




About a third of all adults in the United States come down with shingles, so it is very common. However, there is a vaccination that is able to reduce your chances of getting shingles by 90 percent. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues guidelines for vaccinations and recommends that everyone over 50 years of age be given the shingles vaccination.


There are certain groups of people who are not recommended for a shingles vaccination. These include anyone with an autoimmune deficiency, anyone with the HIV/AIDS virus, and anyone undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer.


According to the CDC, 99 percent of Americans have had chickenpox in their childhood. However, the CDC says that should not play any part in the decision on whether or not to get vaccinated. The vaccinations are therapeutic whether you had chickenpox as a child or not.


Symptoms of Shingles


Having the shingles is similar to having the flu while having a skin irritation at the same time. The symptoms include fever, headaches, confusion, and fatigue. Additional symptoms include a tingling sensation that includes a burning sensation that can be very painful. Your skin will likely itch, as well, due to the rash that is made up of small blisters that are filled with pus. As well, persons with shingles can find themselves more sensitive to light than normal.


Contagious Or No?


Shingles is not contagious, but the herpes zoster virus, which causes herpes is highly contagious. People who are most susceptible are those who have never had chickenpox or have not been vaccinated.




About 10 percent to 15 percent of persons who come down with shingles experiences complications that are defined as postherpetic neuralgia – or post herpes nerve damage. In these cases, the shingles can become very painful. The symptoms can last for weeks, or they can last for far longer, even for years in some cases.


The pain can be so severe it interferes with daily activities. However, there are antiviral medications that can mitigate the pain.




The CDC recommends either acyclovir, valacyclovir, or famciclovir as a treatment for shingles. These drugs can reduce the chances of shingles becoming a long-term condition with permanent nerve damage.

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