Shingles, also known as herpes zoster can affect anyone who has had chickenpox. After the initial infection, the chickenpox virus stays in the central nervous system indefinitely. It may reactivate or “wake-up” after stress, illness, sunlight, or when the immune system is compromised. Shingles is more common in older adults, and a vaccine is now available to anyone over the age of 50. The vaccine can help prevent shingles outbreaks, reduce the intensity of an outbreak if one occurs, and decrease the chance of persistent neurologic pain after an outbreak.
Just before a shingles outbreak, the skin may become painful or tingle. A red rash with possible blisters follows. This rash is typically localized to one region or dermatome of the body. If the shingles outbreak is recognized within 2 days of its onset, prescription medication can help reduce symptoms more quickly and prevent post-outbreak neurologic pain.