Shingles

Frequently Asked Questions

4. What causes shingles?

Shingles is caused by a germ called the varicella-zoster virus -- the one that gave you chickenpox when you were a child. As you recovered from chickenpox, the sores and other symptoms healed, but the virus remained. You carry it in the nerve cells around your spine for the rest of your life.

The virus can become active again, especially in the later years of your life when your immune system doesn't protect you as well from infections. The virus travels from the spinal nerve cells and follows a nerve path out to the skin. Nerve endings in the skin become inflamed and erupt in a very painful rash.