Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by the Varicella-zoster virus. This herpes virus also causes chicken pox, but is not the same type that causes genital or oral herpes (cold sores). Most people recover with no complications.
Once a person has had chicken pox, the virus remains in his body in a latent form. It can reactivate when the individual is under severe stress or experiencing an immune system deficiency.
The complete appearance of shingles symptoms usually takes seven to 10 days, but blisters from a shingles rash might last three to four weeks, or even longer.
Initial shingles symptoms often are flu-like. The person may develop a headache, mild fever and chills, muscle aches, nausea, and her eyes may be sensitive to light. Early skin sensations appear in a specific area and can include itching, numbness, pain and tingling.
The virus travels through nerves, and the rash usually occurs on one side of the body on a band of skin over a nerve path. Painful and sometimes itchy blisters appear over the next several days. The blisters eventually break and form crusts, and begin healing.
Pain from shingles may linger for two to three months. About 2 percent of people have severe pain for longer than a year, according to Aetna InteliHealth.