Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful blistering rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (the varicella-zoster virus).
If you have chickenpox, the virus that caused it may live on after the spots have cleared, in an inactive state, in the nerves linked to your spinal cord. The virus becomes active again when there is a temporary decrease in the body’s resistance. It will then multiply and move along the nerve fibres to the skin supplied by them. Shingles then appears in the skin.
Most attacks of shingles occur for no obvious reason, but an attack is most likely:
- If you are elderly
- If you are under stress
- If you have an illness that weakens the immune system such as cancer (e.g leukaemia, a lymphoma) or AIDS
- If you are have been given treatments that suppress the immune system – including irradiation for cancer, chemotherapy and drugs taken to prevent organ rejection