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Shingles is caused by a reinfection with the same virus that causes chickenpox. The condition is characterized by several symptoms, including a rash and pain, and is most common in people over the age of 50. People who have had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine are also at risk for developing shingles. While there is no cure, several antiviral drugs can help reduce the length and severity of the illness.

What Is Shingles?

Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is a condition caused by reinfection with the varicella-zoster virus. The varicella-zoster virus that causes shingles is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Infection with this virus tends to occur during different decades of a person's life.
This condition is not contagious. Therefore, a person who comes in contact with an infected person will not develop shingles. However, contact with a person with shingles can cause chickenpox in someone who has never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine.
(Click Causes of Shingles to learn more about the varicella-zoster virus and how it reactivates to cause this condition.)

Risk Factors for Shingles

Shingles is most common in people over age 50, but if you have had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, you are at risk for developing it. The disease is also more common in people with weakened immune systems from HIV infection or AIDS, chemotherapy or radiation treatment, transplant operations (such as a kidney transplant or stem cell transplant), and stress.

Symptoms of Shingles

The symptoms a person experiences will vary. For some people, symptoms can be mild; for others, especially in older adults, symptoms can be debilitating. There is no way to predict who will develop symptoms of shingles, how severe they will be, or whether a person will develop complications as a result.
Two of the most common symptoms include a rash and pain (see Shingles Rash and Shingles Pain for more information).
(Click Shingles Symptoms to learn more about specific symptoms, including early symptoms.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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