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Q: What is shingles?

Shingles is an infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, varicella zoster. If you’ve had chickenpox, you can get shingles, often decades later. This virus causes a rash that usually appears as a stripe of blisters on one side of your torso. While the rash isn’t life-threatening, it can be very painful. Symptoms often begin with a burning or tingling sensation, and sensitivity to touch. A red rash often appears a few days later, forming itchy, fluid-filled blisters that burst and form scabs. Some people may experience additional symptoms including fever, fatigue, headache, and photosensitivity.

Shingles can be contagious to someone who hasn’t had chickenpox. The virus is transmitted through direct contact with the open sores of the rash. Therefore, you should avoid physical contact with anyone at risk, until the sores crust over.

Shingles can cause complications in some people, including eye damage if the rash occurs near an eye, pain that continues after the outbreak goes away, bacterial infections around the blisters, and neurological problems. Contact your doctor if the outbreak occurs near your eye, if the rash is especially large or painful, if you have a weakened immune system, or if you’re older than 60.

You can reduce your risk of getting shingles by getting a shingles vaccine, or by getting the chickenpox vaccine if you’ve never had chickenpox.

Bradley H. Glenn, MD

Family Medicine

Glenn Family Medicine, LLC
85 Maui Lani Parkway
Wailuku,, HI 96793