A to Z: Herpes Zoster

A to Z: Herpes Zoster

May also be called: Shingles; Zoster

Herpes zoster is a skin rash caused by a viral infection of the nerves just below the skin.

More to Know

Herpes zoster, commonly called shingles, is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After someone has had chickenpox, the virus stays in that person’s nervous system for life, even though the chickenpox goes away. Anyone who has had chickenpox may later develop herpes zoster — even children.

Herpes zoster usually appears as a stripe of irritated skin and blisters on one side of the chest or back, but it can occur anywhere on the body, including on the face and near the eyes. Many cases of shingles cause only mild symptoms, but more severe cases can be very painful.

The virus is highly contagious, and infection can cause chickenpox in someone who hasn’t already had chickenpox or gotten the chickenpox vaccine.

A herpes zoster infection will generally run its course and disappear in less than a month. If needed, treatment with medications and pain-relieving creams, sprays, or skin patches can reduce pain, lessen the risk of complications, and help someone heal more quickly.

Keep in Mind

Most kids who have been vaccinated against VZV will never have to worry about chickenpox or shingles. People who have had chickenpox may get herpes zoster someday, but medical treatment and home remedies can help ease symptoms, especially if treatment is started as early as possible.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.