What is shingles? Shingles is a painful disease caused by reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus. Shingles, also called herpes zoster, attacks nerve cells and causes severe nerve pain and a skin rash that appears over the affected nerve. Shingles develops in people who have had chickenpox in the past. The chickenpox virus (varicella zoster virus) can remain in the body in an inactive form for years. In some people, the dormant virus is reactivated later in life by something that stresses the immune system, such as an illness. Shingles is not spread through contact with a person who has shingles. However, a person who has never had chickenpox can contract chickenpox from a person with shingles through direct contact with the shingles rash. Shingles is most common in older adults and the elderly who have had chickenpox at some point during their lives. Shingles is preventable 50% of the time through a shingles vaccination, and it has become less common since the introduction of the shingles vaccine. The pain of shingles generally resolves within three to five weeks. Most people who develop shingles will have only one episode, but in rare cases a person will have a second or third episode. Complications of untreated shingles can be serious and include vision damage, meningitis, and postherpetic neuralgia (ongoing pain at the site). Seek prompt medical care if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms of shingles, including itching, tingling, or severe burning pain that precedes the appearance of a rash in the affected area. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of shingles reduces the risk of serious complications.