What causes shingles?

Shingles is a disease caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus. When a person has chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus can invade the nerve cells in the brain stem or spinal cord. The virus can then remain there in an inactive form for years until it is reactivated later in life and causes shingles. The varicella zoster virus can be reactivated by anything that taxes the immune system, such as illness or stress

What are the risk factors for shingles?

A number of factors increase your risk of reactivating the dormant varicella zoster virus and developing shingles including:

  • Being an older adult with a history of having had chickenpox who has not gotten the shingles vaccination

  • Having a condition that weakens the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, chemotherapy, or an organ transplant. Having a weakened or impaired immune system also increases the risk for having recurring episodes of shingles.

  • Recent illness

  • Stress

Reducing your risk of shingles

You can best lower your risk of shingles and its complications by getting vaccinated for shingles. The shingles vaccine is generally given to adults older than age 60 who have had chickenpox. It is possible that a person who has had the shingles vaccine may still get shingles, but the disease is generally less severe and of shorter duration.

Some people should not get the shingles vaccine, including people with a weakened immune system and people who have had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine components (gelatin, neomycin or other component). Unfortunately, immunocompromised people who should not get the vaccine are also at a higher risk for developing shingles.

You can reduce your risk of chickenpox and subsequent development of shingles by avoiding exposure to a person with chickenpox and by getting vaccinated for these diseases as recommended by your health care provider.

INTRODUCTION

What is shingles?

Shingles is a painful disease caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus. Shingles, also called herpes zoster, attacks nerve cells and causes severe nerve pain and a skin rash that appears over the affected nerve.... Read more about shinglesintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of shingles?

Symptoms of shingles affect the nerves and the skin. Shingles can occur in almost any part of the body, but most often affects one side of the torso. Symptoms of shingles include:... Read more about shinglessymptoms

TREATMENTS

How is shingles treated?

There is no cure for shingles, but antiviral medications can reduce the severity and duration of the disease. Antiviral medications can also reduce the risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia, which is a serious complication of shingles. Antiviral medications include:... Read more about shinglestreatments

Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian MD Last Annual Review Date: Feb 11, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

Popular Infections and Contagious Diseases Slide Shows