Herpes zoster, also known as shingles, is a viral infection. It is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person has recovered from chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in the body. The virus can be activated later in life, returning as shingles. This typically occurs in people who are age 50 years and older.

The virus returns for unknown reasons. Some causes may include stress or a weakened immune system. Typically, it returns one time with only one episode of symptoms. However, more than one episode can occur. It is a common illness in the US.

The virus that causes shingles can be spread to people who have not had chickenpox. These people would get chickenpox, not shingles.

The most common symptoms of shingles include:

  • Painful skin that turns into a rash
  • A rash of red, painful blisters
  • Rash often occurs only on one side of the body
  • Blisters that break open, then scab over
  • Fever, headache, chills
  • Abdominal discomfort

Shingles and its symptoms typically get better over time. Antiviral medications may be given to help the symptoms go away faster.

Possible complications include long-term nerve pain. Other complications are lesson common, but serious, such as blindness, deafness, brain inflammation, and death.

This vaccine is a live, weakened form of the varicella zoster virus. It is given as a shot under the skin.