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Herpes zoster is a condition that is most common in people over the age of 50. It can be characterized by a number of symptoms, including a rash and pain. The condition is caused by a reinfection with the same virus that causes chickenpox. Therefore, people who have had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine are at risk of developing this condition. While there is no cure, there are several antiviral drugs than can help reduce the length and severity of the illness.

What Is Herpes Zoster?

Herpes zoster (also known as shingles) is a condition caused by a reinfection with the varicella-zoster virus. The varicella-zoster virus that causes herpes zoster is the same virus that causes chickenpox. The infection with this virus tends to occur during different decades of a person's life.
Herpes zoster is not contagious. Therefore, a person who comes in contact with an infected person will not develop it. Even though the condition is not contagious, contact with a person with herpes zoster can cause chickenpox in someone who has never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine.
(Click Cause for Herpes Zoster to learn more about the varicella-zoster virus and how it reactivates to cause herpes zoster.)

Risk Factors

Herpes zoster is most common in people over the age of 50. However, anyone who has had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine is at risk of developing it. This disease is also more common in people with weakened immune systems from HIV infection (or AIDS), chemotherapy or radiation treatment, transplant operations (such as a kidney transplant or stem cell transplant), and stress.

What Are the Symptoms?

The symptoms a person experiences will vary. For some people, the symptoms can be very mild; for others (especially older adults), symptoms can be debilitating. There is no way to predict who will develop herpes zoster symptoms, how severe they will be, or whether a person will develop complications.
Two of the most common symptoms of herpes zoster are pain and a rash.
(Click Herpes Zoster Symptoms to learn more about the specific symptoms of this condition, including specific early symptoms.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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