A to Z: Herpes Zoster

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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.

Related Resources

OrganizationCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.
Web SiteCDC: Vaccines & Immunizations The CDC's site has information on vaccines, including immunization schedules, recommendations, FAQs, and more.
OrganizationImmunization Action Coalition This organization is a source of childhood, adolescent, and adult immunization information as well as hepatitis B educational materials.
OrganizationAmerican Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.
Web SiteThe History of Vaccines The History of Vaccines is an informational, educational website created by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the oldest professional society in the United States.

Related Articles

Immunization Schedule Which vaccines does your child need to receive and when? Use this immunization schedule as a handy reference.
Your Child's Immunizations: Chickenpox Vaccine Find out when and why your child needs to get this vaccine.
Shingles Shingles isn't very common in kids - it mostly affects older people. Find out what causes shingles, symptoms to watch for, and what to do if your child has it.
Chickenpox It's most common in kids under age 12, but anyone can get chickenpox. The good news is that a vaccine can prevent most cases.

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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