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Shingles Q&A

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime. Shingles is caused by the VZV virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox, which lies dormant in the body and can reemerge years later. The virus usually only causes one shingles episode, but it’s possible that you can have a second or even third recurrence.

We asked Liz Barnhart, NP and doctors in the Primary Care Boston office at Tufts Medical Center some frequently asked questions about shingles, the symptoms, treatment options and how to reduce your risk for developing this painful rash. 

Q: Who is at risk for shingles?

A: Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox can develop shingles. However, shingles is much more common in men and women who are 60 years of age or older. Shingles is also more common in individuals who have medical problems involving their immune systems or individuals who receive immunosuppressive drugs.

Q: How do I know if I have shingles?

A: Shingles is characterized by a painful rash that appears on one side of the face or body. The rash generally forms blisters that scab over in 7 to 10 days, and then heal within 2 to 4 weeks. Other symptoms of shingles can include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Upset stomach
  • Loss of vision

Q: How do Tufts Medical Center Primary Care Boston doctors treat shingles?

A: There are several antiviral medicines that are able to treat shingles and should be administered as soon as the rash appears for maximum effectiveness. The most common complication of shingles is post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), a condition characterized by severe pain in the areas where the rash previously appeared.

Q: How can I reduce my risk of developing shingles?

A: The only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles, and the long-term pain of PHN, is to get vaccinated.  The CDC recommends that anyone over the age of 60 get vaccinated, even those who do not recall having chickenpox. Zostavax is the only shingles vaccine currently available, and reduces the risk of developing shingles by 51% and PHN by 67%. This vaccine is one dose, and can be administered in a doctor’s office, like Tufts MC Primary Care Boston, or at a pharmacy.

Call 617-636-5400 for more information.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles: Herpes Zoster.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Everyone Should Know about Shingles Vaccine.