Algoma Public Health


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What is it?

  • An infection caused by a herpes virus.  The same virus causes chickenpox.
  • Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles.
  • The virus remains sleeping in certain nerve cells of the body for months/years and then awakens.
  • Occurs more commonly in older people, those under stress and persons with weakend immune systems; e.g. those with cancer.

 What are the symptoms?

  • A burning pain or tingling and extreme sensitivity in one area of the skin along a nerve tract.
  • Within 1 – 3 days a red rash appears (in crops).
  • The rash becomes blister-like, lasting 7-10 days prior to crusting over and healing within 2-4 weeks.
  • Complications develop in about 10 to 15% of cases; the most common is chronic severe pain or post-herpetic neuralgia. This pain may last weeks to months.
  • Rash usually affects only one side of the body, most commonly around the upper torso, neck & around the eyes


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How quickly do symptoms develop?

  • Exposed persons are at risk of developing chickenpox, not shingles, within 2 – 3 weeks.


How is it spread?

  • By direct contact with fluid from the blisters of someone with shingles.

 How long is it contagious?

  • For 7-10 days after the appearance of the blisters.

 How is it treated?

  • Antiviral medication may be prescribed to speed the healing of the rash & reduce shingles pain. Results are best when started as soon as possible after the rash appear.
  • If needed, treatment may include pain relievers, cool-compresses, anti-viral medication and ointments.

 What can you do?

  • If symptoms develop, contact your physician immediately for diagnosis and treatment.
  • While contagious, avoid contact with newborns, pregnant women, and persons with weak immune systems; e.g. illnesses such as cancer, HIV.
  •  Vaccines are available for the prevention of shingles for individuals 50 years of age and older.


Date of Creation: June 1, 2015

Last Modified: June 1, 2018