Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is an infection that causes a painful rash. 

It often starts with tingling pain, headaches and tiredness and then can lead to a painful rash with fluid-filled blisters. 

Most people fully recover from shingles but in some cases it can last for months, even years.

There are ways to treat shingles and a vaccination is available.

York Press: Shingles is an infection that causes a painful rash.Shingles is an infection that causes a painful rash. (Image: Getty Images)The NHS website explains what shingles is, how it is caused and what each stage of the infection is like.

The stages of shingles

The NHS says shingles often starts with tingling and pain in one area, along with a headache and tiredness.

This is usually followed by a painful rash of fluid-filled blisters a few days later.

The blisters then burst and turn into sores.

The NHS website said: "Usually you get the shingles rash on your chest and tummy, but it can appear anywhere on your body including on your face, eyes and genitals.

"The rash appears as blotches on your skin, on 1 side of your body only. A rash on both the left and right of your body is unlikely to be shingles."

It can be painful and very itchy and when shingles affects the eye, or the skin around the eye, it can cause sight problems.

Can shingles kill you? 

Nowhere on the NHS website does it mention shingles causing death.

The website says: "Most people recover fully from shingles, but for some people the pain can last for months or even years."

This long-lasting pain is called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).

PHN is difficult to treat and the older you are the more likely you are to have PHN that is severe.

For advice on shingles call the NHS on 111.

How long do shingles last?

The rash can take up to four weeks to heal. 

The NHS said: "Your skin can be painful for weeks after the rash has gone, but it usually gets better over time."

What causes shingles?

Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox – the varicella-zoster virus.

Almost everyone gets chickenpox at some point in their life.

The NHS explains: "When you recover from chickenpox, most of the virus is destroyed, but some of it can survive and remain inactive in the body for many years.

"This virus can then reactivate later in life and cause shingles."

"This generally happens when the immune system is weakened by things such as age, illness, stress or medication."

Is shingles contagious?

Shingles cannot be spread to others apart from while the rash is oozing fluid. 

People who have not had chickenpox before could catch chickenpox from someone with shingles.

According to the NHS, this is because shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus.

The NHS website said to avoid: 

  • Pregnant people who have not had chickenpox
  • People with a weakened immune system
  • Babies less than one-month-old – unless you gave birth to them as your baby should be protected from the virus by your immune system

Can I go to work with shingles?

The NHS advises staying away from work or school if the rash is still oozing fluid (weeping) and cannot be covered, or until the rash has dried out.

The only time the infection can be spread is while the rash oozes fluid.

The rash can be covered with loose clothing or a non-sticky dressing.

How to treat shingles

The NHS recommends doing the following four things:

  • Take paracetamol to ease pain
  • Keep the rash clean and dry to reduce the risk of infection
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing
  • Use a cool compress (a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel or a wet cloth) a few times a day

However, they urged people to avoid letting dressing or plasters stick to the rash and to not use antibiotic cream as it slows the healing process.

Is there a shingles vaccination and who is eligible?

York Press: Shingles vaccinations are available for people in their 70s.Shingles vaccinations are available for people in their 70s. (Image: Getty Images)

There is a vaccination available in both England and Wales for Shingles.

A shingles vaccine is available on the NHS for:

  • People who turned 65 on or after September 1, 2023
  • People aged 70 to 79
  • People aged 50 and over with a severely weakened immune system


The vaccine "helps reduce your risk of getting shingles", says the NHS.

The NHS website adds: "If you get shingles after being vaccinated, the symptoms can be much milder.

You can ask your GP surgery if you are eligible for the shingles vaccine.