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What is shingles?

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Quick Answer

Shingles is a painful condition in which a rash forms along the side of the body near the ribs. It is caused by the same virus that is responsible for chickenpox, and it is most likely to occur among the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, according to WebMD.

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Full Answer

Shingles is caused by the herpes zoster virus, which can remain dormant in the body for years and trigger outbreaks during times of stress or reduced immunity. The rash it causes can appear anywhere on the body, according to Mayo Clinic, but it most often presents as a diagonal stripe of blisters along the ribcage on either side of the torso. Shingles is not life-threatening, but the rash it produces can be painful and difficult to treat. The virus resides in the central nervous system between outbreaks and can manifest years after the initial infection. Preventive treatments exist, and they can be effective at reducing the frequency and severity of outbreaks, but there is no cure for the condition.

In some cases, shingles outbreaks can lead to serious complications. Secondary infections sometimes occur at the site of the rash, and the virus has been responsible for blindness, neurological disorders and nerve damage that can be extremely painful even after the rash has cleared, according to Mayo Clinic.

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