Shingles is also known as zoster or herpes zoster.  It is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV) which is the same virus that causes chicken pox.  After a person recovers from chicken pox, the virus remains in the body in a dormant or inactive phase.  At times of stress or illness the virus can reactivate many years later causing shingles.  Although shingles is caused by a herpes virus, it is not caused by the same virus that causes genital herpes or cold sores.  

Anyone who has had chicken pox, including children, can get shingles.  However, the risk definitely increases as you get older.  About half of all cases of shingles will occur in men and women who are over the age of 60.  It is estimated that 1 in 3 people over the age of 60 will develop shingles, and of those people who develop shingles, approximately 1 in 6 will have severe pain.  In some cases, the pain can last for several months after the rash resolves.   

In addition to patients over the age of 60, certain other patient populations have an increased risk of developing shingles, including people on certain immunosuppressive medications (such as steroids or drugs given after organ transplantation) as well as people with conditions that affect the immune system such as HIV, leukemia, and lymphoma.  

Thankfully, people who gets shingles usually will only get it once in their lifetime.  However, in some unfortunate situations, patients may develop shingles a second or even third time.