Shingles is a common but serious viral infection that causes a painful rash. Only people who have had chickenpox can get shingles -- both are caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). After chickenpox clears, an inactive form of the varicella virus stays in the spinal cord and brain and can reactivate, resulting in shingles. People in their 60s and 70s are at higher risk of developing shingles. However, it can also occur in children and those who have HIV, cancer, or other medical conditions that cause weakened immune systems.
Between one and five days before a shingles rash appears, many people describe a burning, itching, numbness, or tingling pain on a small area of the skin. This localized pain usually develops on one side of the torso. For some, the sensation comes and goes, while others experience it constantly. Although the affected area is small, it can be extremely sensitive to the touch. This early pain is sometimes mistaken for a symptom of other medical conditions that affect the lungs, kidneys, or heart.
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