Shingles (herpes zoster) is a blistering and often painful rash that occurs in individuals who have had chicken pox earlier in life. It is caused by a reactivation of the chicken pox virus in the nerve cells, and typically affects people over the age of 50. This reactivation may be triggered by a weakened immune system, but the exact cause is unknown. The first symptom may be pain or numbness of an area of skin followed by a red, finely blistered, band-like rash on one side of the body or face. The rash generally takes 2 to 3 weeks to evolve and fade, but the associated pain from the irritation of the nerves may take much longer to resolve. Because shingles is a viral infection caused by the chicken pox virus, there is an element of contagion for susceptible individuals. Pregnant women, very young infants, persons with atopic eczema or other skin diseases, and patients who are immunosuppressed due to cancer chemotherapy, radiation therapy or organ transplantation, are at greater risk for acquiring difficult chicken pox infections. Early treatment with antiviral medication will shorten the duration and severity of the disease.