Shingles is a reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox, resulting in a painful blistering rash. It is most common in older adults. However, anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, since the virus stays in the body.

The earliest sign of shingles may be that a small area on one side of the body starts to burn, itch, tingle or feel very sensitive. This may come and go over 1 to 3 days. Next a rash appears in this area that soon becomes a group of clear blisters. It may take 2 to 3 weeks for them to scab over and heal. These blisters are often associated with pain which can be bad enough to require painkillers. Shingles is contagious until the blisters heal.

A vaccine, which can prevent shingles, is available to people aged 50 and older. An anti-viral medicine can make shingles symptoms milder and shorter, and is most effective when taken within 3 days of the rash.

For more information, visit the American Academy of Dermatology at