September 14, 2006
What is Shingles?
Shingles, also know as herpes zoster, is caused by a reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox. After an attack of chickenpox, the virus retreats to nerve cells in the body, where it may lie dormant for decades. Under certain conditions the virus can reactivate and begin to reproduce. Shingles is more common after the age of 50 and the risk increases with advancing age due to declining immunity. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for shingles.
Is Shingles contagious?
People who have had chickenpox cannot "catch" shingles from someone who has it. However, people who've never had chickenpox can be infected with chickenpox if exposed to someone with an active case of shingles. A caregiver or other person who lacks immunity developed from a prior case of chickenpox or the vaccine must avoid coming into contact with the rash or contaminated materials.
Shingles usually occurs on only one side of the body. It often appears as a band of blisters that wraps from the middle of your back around one side of your chest to your breastbone. Sometimes, the shingles rash occurs around one eye or on one side of the neck or face. Shingles pain can be mild or intense. Some people have mostly itching; some feel severe pain from the gentlest touch or breeze.If You Get Shingles
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a shingles vaccine called Zostavax on May 25, 2006. Ask your physician about this vaccine.
What research is being done?
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and other institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct shingles research in laboratories at the NIH and also support additional research through grants to major medical institutions across the country. Current research is aimed at finding new methods for treating shingles and its complications. Select this link to view a list of studies currently seeking patients.