We're unable to sign you in at this time. Please try again in a few minutes.
We were able to sign you in, but your subscription(s) could not be found. Please try again in a few minutes.
There may be a problem with your account. Please contact the AMA Service Center to resolve this issue.
Contact the AMA Service Center:
Telephone: 1 (800) 262-2350 or 1 (312) 670-7827  *   Email: subscriptions@jamanetwork.com
Error Message ......
JAMA Patient Page |

Shingles FREE

Janet M. Torpy, MD, Writer; Alison E. Burke, MA, Illustrator; Richard M. Glass, MD, Editor
JAMA. 2009;302(1):108. doi:10.1001/jama.302.1.108.
Text Size: A A A
Published online

Shingles is a painful condition caused by the virus (varicella-zoster virus, or VZV) that also causes chickenpox. It affects about 1 million individuals per year in the United States alone. Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, occurs in persons who have already had chickenpox. Shingles usually occurs only once in a person's lifetime. Most individuals who develop shingles are older than 50 years, have other medical problems (such as cancer), or are immune-suppressed from medications they take (such as steroid medications). The virus (VZV) causing shingles and chickenpox is a type of herpes virus. It is a different herpes virus from the ones responsible for cold sores or for genital herpes. VZV remains in nerve tissue after a person recovers from chickenpox. The virus remains dormant (inactive) until reactivated to cause shingles. The cause of this reactivation is not completely understood. The July 1, 2009, issue of JAMA includes an article about shingles.


  • Rash on one side of the body or the face

  • Blisters that develop in the rash site and then crust over

  • Fever, headache, fatigue, and chills may occur.

  • Pain, often a tingling-type pain, can occur before the rash appears.


  • Antiviral medications, if taken soon after symptoms begin, can shorten the length of time a shingles episode lasts. The severity of the episode may also be less if antiviral medications are taken.

  • Supportive care, including rest and plenty of liquids, is useful in the treatment of shingles (like any other viral infection).

  • Acetaminophen may help relieve pain and reduce fever, if it is present.

  • Cover blisters until they are crusted over. Do not scratch blisters, since they can then become infected.

  • Wash hands frequently.

  • In rare cases, shingles can be severe and cause critical illness, including pneumonia or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Severe episodes of shingles may require hospitalization for more intensive treatment.


Vaccines are available for chickenpox and for shingles. Varicella vaccine (for chickenpox) is recommended for young children and for older children who have not already had chickenpox. Shingles vaccine is recommended for adults who are more than 60 years old. Certain individuals should not have these vaccines: pregnant women, persons with immune system disease, and infants younger than 12 months.

Persons who have shingles can pass on VZV to others who have not had chickenpox. Once the blisters have healed, the contagious phase is finished.


Some individuals develop a long-lasting pain condition called postherpetic neuralgia after having an episode of shingles. Postherpetic neuralgia is more common in older persons. Early treatment of shingles with an antiviral medication may help prevent postherpetic neuralgia.



To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on chickenpox was published in the August 17, 2005, issue.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, American Academy of Dermatology, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.




Also Meets CME requirements for:
Browse CME for all U.S. States
Accreditation Information
The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
Note: You must get at least of the answers correct to pass this quiz.
Please click the checkbox indicating that you have read the full article in order to submit your answers.
Your answers have been saved for later.
You have not filled in all the answers to complete this quiz
The following questions were not answered:
Sorry, you have unsuccessfully completed this CME quiz with a score of
The following questions were not answered correctly:
Commitment to Change (optional):
Indicate what change(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.
Your quiz results:
The filled radio buttons indicate your responses. The preferred responses are highlighted
For CME Course: A Proposed Model for Initial Assessment and Management of Acute Heart Failure Syndromes
Indicate what changes(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.


Spanish Patient Pages
Supplemental Content

Some tools below are only available to our subscribers or users with an online account.

0 Citations

Related Content

Customize your page view by dragging & repositioning the boxes below.

Articles Related By Topic
Related Collections
PubMed Articles
Localized Eruptive Blue Nevi after Herpes Zoster. Case Rep Dermatol ;8(2):118-23.
Herpes Zoster Mandibularis. N Engl J Med 2016;375(4):369.