KidsMD Health Topics

Herpes Zoster (Shingles)

  • Herpes zoster, or shingles, is a common viral infection of the nerves, which results in a painful rash of small blisters on a strip of skin anywhere on the body. Even after the rash is gone, the pain may continue for months.

    • Shingles is relatively rare in children.
    • Your child is most at risk if he had chicken pox during the first year of life or if you had chicken pox very late during pregnancy.
    • Rash most often occurs on the trunk and buttocks and usually goes away in one to two weeks.
    • Medication may help alleviate some of the pain, but the disease has to run its course.


    Children's Hospital Boston
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

     617-355-6117
     fax: 617-713-0308
  • What is herpes zoster?
    Herpes zoster, or shingles, is a common viral infection of the nerves, which results in a painful rash of small blisters on a strip of skin anywhere on the body. Even after the rash is gone, the pain may continue for months.

    What causes herpes zoster?

    Herpes zoster is caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in certain nerves for many years.

    Is herpes zoster common?

    Herpes zoster is more common in people with a depressed immune system and those over the age of 50. It's quite rare in children and the symptoms are mild compared to what an adult may experience. Children most at risk for herpes zoster are those who had chicken pox during the first year of life or whose mothers had chicken pox very late during pregnancy.

    What are the symptoms of herpes zoster?

    The rash associated with herpes zoster most often occurs on the trunk and buttocks. It may also appear on the arms, legs or face. While symptoms may vary child to child, the most common include:

    • skin hypersensitivity in the area where the herpes zoster is to appear
    • mild rash, which appears after five days and first looks like small, red spots that turn into blisters
    • blisters, which turn yellow and dry, often leaving small, pitted scars
    • rash goes away in one to two weeks
    • rash is usually localized to one side of the body
  • How does a doctor know that it's herpes zoster?

    Diagnosis usually involves obtaining a medical history of your child and performing a physical exam. Your doctor also may want to:

    • take skin scrapings (gently scraping the blisters to determine if the virus is shingles or another virus)
    • run blood tests
  • Medication may help alleviate some of the pain, but the disease has to run its course. Your doctor will prescribe medication based on your child's age and the severity of the symptoms. Immediate treatment with antiviral drugs may help lessen some of the symptoms and minimize nerve damage.

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