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Shingles is a disease caused by an acute viral (varicella-zoster virus) infection of the central nervous system. It affects areas of the skin.

Typically, three to four days before skin outbreaks occur, symptoms of fatigue, fever, chills, and, sometimes, gastrointestinal upset, start to manifest, followed by the affected area of the skin becoming sensitive to the touch. Then small, crusty, painful blisters erupt along a nerve path so that the reddened outbreak affects a strip of skin, forming a line. This most commonly occurs over the ribs in the thoracic area and is usually limited to one side of the body. In rare cases, shingles can also affect the lower part of the body or the face. During the shingles outbreak, the pain can be severe, but the eruptions usually heal within five days without further complications. In some people, however, especially the elderly, pain can last for months and even years, and be recurring.

Shingles can be due to chicken pox (in children), pleurisy, Bell's palsy, herpes simplex, appendicitis, colic, gallstones, colitis, trigeminal neuralgia, or contact dermatitis. All of these conditions must be screened for and, if present, properly treated to provide lasting relief from shingles.

Caution: Shingles eruptions that last longer than two weeks can be a sign of underlying immune problems or cancer (particularly Hodgkin's disease), and, therefore, require immediate medical attention. In addition, see an ophthalmologist immediately if herpes zoster occurs near the eyes or on the forehead, as it can cause blindness.