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Shingles is a viral infection caused by vericella zoster that can cause a painful rash. The rash is usually distinctive in that it is in a band or line occurring on one side of the body or face.
Symptoms may be flu like in nature with no fever, a headache and possible light sensitivity, an itchy rash may develop in a small area that turns into blisters. The blisters heal in 2-4 weeks. Some may get a mild rash or none at all. Often the rash site is very painful.
Varicella zoster is the same virus as that causes chickenpox. You can only get shingles if you have had chickenpox. If you have had chickenpox, this virus remains dormant in the body in nerve tissue. In later life it may reactivate as shingles and in some people it will remain dormant.
There is no clear reason why this virus may reactivate in one person and not another. It is more apt to activate in older adults and those with a weakened immune system.
You can not catch shingles from someone else. Shingles may be contagious to someone who has not had the chickenpox disease or vaccine. This usually occurs through direct contact with the open blisters. Once infected this person would develop chickenpox and not shingles.
There is a vaccine available to prevent shingles or lessen the painful symptoms. The shingles vaccine, Zostavax, is recommended for adults 60 years and older. If you have had shingles you can still receive a dose to help prevent another occurrence.