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Shingles

What causes shingles?

Shingles is caused when the varicella zoster virus (VZV) reactivates, the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella). The varicella zoster virus belongs to the Herpesviridae family. Only those who have previously had chickenpox and those who have received the varicella vaccine can develop shingles later in life. Initial exposure to the varicella zoster virus, which typically occurs in children or adolescents, leads to the development of varicella. After the episode of chickenpox has resolved, the virus remains in a dormant state in the nervous system in certain nerve cells of the body located in the spine. While in this inactive state, you will not experience any symptoms from the varicella zoster virus. However, in certain individuals and for reasons that are not completely clear, the varicella zoster virus may reactivate years later and travel along nerve paths to cause shingles. The location and pattern of the ensuing rash reflects the region of the affected nerves.

Though similar in name, herpes zoster is not the same disease as herpes simplex (which is caused by the herpes simplex virus causing cold sores, fever blisters, or genital herpes).

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Reviewed on 7/5/2017

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