Public Health Fact Sheet

What is Shingles?
Shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. Shingles (herpes zoster) is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Stress, trauma, sunlight, immunosuppression and advancing age can cause reactivation of the virus and produce shingles. Shingles can occur at any age, but is more prevalent in the elderly and immunocompromised individuals.

How is Shingles spread?
Anyone who has had chickenpox in the past can develop shingles. Shingles cannot be passed from one person to another. However, the virus that causes Shingles (varicella-zoster) can be passed from a person with active Shingles and cause chickenpox in a person who has never had chickenpox or has never been vaccinated against chickenpox. The virus can be spread by direct contact with the fluid from the fluid-filled blisters or indirect contact with articles soiled by fluid from blisters.

How long is a person contagious?
A person is contagious during the blister phase of the disease. They are no longer contagious once the blisters have scabbed over. The blisters usually scab over in 7-10 days and are completely gone in 2-4 weeks.

How is Shingles treated?
Antiviral medications can shorten the duration and severity of symptoms and pain of Shingles. These medicines are more affective if taken as soon as possible once the rash appears. 

How can Shingles be prevented?

A shingles vaccine is recommended for persons 50 and older. Several precautions can be taken to prevent the spread of the virus. Cover draining blisters with a protective dressing. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with the blisters, dressings, or clothing. Disinfect and wash clothing and surfaces after contact with the fluid from blisters.

Additional information is available on the CDC website at

Symptoms of Shingles

  • Chills, fever, fatigue and gastrointestinal disturbance may be present 3-5 days before rash develops
  • Numbness, itching and severe pain on one side of your body followed by clusters of blister-like lesions typically on one side of the face or body
  • A rash occurs in chickenpox-like crops, most often on the chest and waist area and spreads in a line-like pattern
  • The rash changes to fluid-filled blisters called vesicles 1-2 days later
  • Deep pain in the rash area due to inflammation of the nerves

February 2020