Shingles is a painful skin disease caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus. Once you are infected with this kind of virus, it remains in your body for life and stays inactive until a period when your immunity is down. Although shingles can occur anywhere on your body, it most often appears as a single stripe of blisters that wraps around either the left or the right side of your torso. The early signs of shingles usually develop in three stages: severe pain or tingling, possibly itchy rash, and blisters that look like chickenpox.
About 1 in 5 people have shingles at some time in their life. It can occur at any age, but it is most common in people over the age of 50. It is uncommon to have shingles more than once, but about 1 person in 50 has shingles two or more times in their life. In most cases, an episode of shingles occurs for no apparent reason. Sometimes a period of stress or illness seems to trigger it. A minor ageing of the immune system may account for it being more common in older people. (The immune system keeps the virus inactive and prevents it from multiplying. A slight weakening of the immune system in older people may account for the virus reactivating and multiplying to cause shingles.)
Unlike chickenpox, with shingles, the virus is NOT transmitted by someone breathing or coughing on you. You have to come in contact with the blister fluid itself. Once the blisters scab over, the contagious period is ended. There is no cure for shingles. Early treatment with medicines that fight the virus may help. These medicines may also help prevent lingering pain.