What Causes Shingles?

CDC reports that almost 1 out of 3 Americans get a shingles diagnosis in their lives. So what causes shingles? Shingles is a result of the varicella-zoster virus, also known as herpes zoster, which causes a painful rash on the skin.  Causes Shingles

The varicella-zoster virus is the same viral infection that causes chickenpox, so once those with chickenpox get treated and go into remission, the virus remains dormant until it gets triggered by old age, an autoimmune disease, and too much stress and results in shingles.

Consequently, individuals who have had chickenpox are at an increased risk of getting shingles, and while shingles is not contagious, those who have never had the pox nor been vaccinated can become infected via physical contact with shingles rashes. However, in most cases, shingles is not life-threatening and improves on its own within 3-4 weeks.

Nonetheless, shingles treatment is essential in some cases as some patients may suffer from long-term symptoms, especially chronic pain, which can evolve into postherpetic neuralgia. However, this complication is more common among those who are 60 and over.

What Causes Shingles?

Everyone who has had chickenpox has a risk of getting shingles depending on their risk factors as the virus can remain inactive in the nerves for up to decades. Once it gets reactivated, it makes it way through the nerve passageways and results in rashes.

While the exact cause of why the virus resurfaces is unknown, it is typically associated with a weakened immune system, age, and too much stress.

Shingles Risk Factors

Until shingles rashes crust over, it can be contagious to those who have not had chickenpox. People over 50, pregnant women, infants, and individuals with a compromised immune system are at an increased risk of getting shingles.

Some factors that can contribute to the weakening of the immune system include autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, HIV, long-term use of some medications such as steroids, and cancer treatments.

Heeding risk factors and getting shingles treated as quickly as possible is essential to prevent further complications such as postherpetic neuralgia, which causes chronic, long-term pain.

Anyone under the age of 60 should get vaccinated for shingles regardless of whether they have had a breakout before. While it does not work as a cure, it can be an effective preventative measure.

Featured Image: Depositphotos/© librakv

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