Understanding Shingles

Shingles is a painful and sometimes debilitating infection and rash triggered by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Typically the illness hits people after age 50, and it becomes increasingly more common with age, but it can hit anyone who has had chickenpox. Click through this interactive graphic to learn more about the disease.
Anyone who has had chickenpox may develop shingles. The varicella zoster virus remains in the body after the chickenpox illness ends and can later lead to shingles.
When shingles starts, there is pain, itching, or tingling on one side of the face or body. Normally, it appears in a localized, band-like pattern. Antiviral medications are most effective against shingles when taken within the first 72 hours.

Click here to see a photo of shingles in its early stage.

In that area of the face or body, blisters form over 3 to 5 days.

Click here to see a photo of shingles as it progresses along a nerve path.

These blisters become a rash, which usually clears over 10-15 days. However, scabs may last up to a month, and some people have permanent scarring.

Click here to see a photo of shingles in its later stage.

Other symptoms can include fever, headache, and chills.
For some, severe nerve pain can continue for months or even years after the rash disappears. This condition is called post-herpetic neuralgia.
NUMBER OF YEARLY CASES AMONG A THOUSAND PERSONS,
BY AGE GROUP

Includes post-herpetic neuralgia, a condition where severe nerve pain can continue for months or even years after the rash disappears.

Shingles most often appears on the trunk, including the chest, back and abdomen. It's common on the face, and can also appear on the arms, legs and buttocks.

Click here to see a photo of shingles that has spread to the eyes.

SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

PATRICK GARVIN, JAVIER ZARRACINA/GLOBE STAFF