Shingles is a skin rash caused by the same virus (Varicella zoster virus) that cases chickenpox. Shingles is a painful rash and blistering condition that usually effects just an isolated area on the body and belongs to the herpes family of viruses.
Shingles is not a sexually transmitted disease like genital herpes, even though it is from the same virus family, but rather a recurrence of chickenpox, which has been dormant in the nervous system and is never fully cleared from the body. Varicella zoster virus, or shingles, becomes latent in the nerve cell bodies and can break out of the nerve cell bodies and travel down the axons to cause a viral infection around the region of the nerve. Shingles will begin with isolated pain in a specific region and then will develop small blisters for a couple of days, building upon each other. The shingles rash will typically appear as bands on the body, following the nerves which they have attacked.
The shingles rash will generally heal in a couple of weeks, but can leave residual nerve pain from which a person may suffer for some time.
There are a number of reasons for the recurrence of shingles, but most commonly it is is from stress, or from another medical condition which can trigger the body to release the virus down the nervous system. If you’ve ever had chickenpox, you are at risk for shingles. Usually this condition occurs in people over 60, and it is estimated that there are over a million cases of shingles each year in the U.S. alone. Just how the virus remains dormant and then reactivates is still not totally understood, but treatment is available.
Shingles is Contagious
Shingles is contagious and it is easy to infect another if they have never had chickenpox. The person being infected will contract chickenpox, not shingles, but after infection they will carry the virus and there is no cure. If you’ve had chickenpox before you are not at risk of infection again.