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Developing Shingles

Shingles is a condition caused by the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, a virus that also causes chickenpox. Shingles can only develop in individuals who have had chickenpox before, or have had the varicella vaccine. Chickenpox usually occurs in children or early years, and after it resolves, the virus doesn’t actually clear away, but rather stays dormant in certain nerve cells in the body. During this time, no symptoms will appear. For reasons that are not completely clear, the varicella zoster virus will reactivate in certain individuals along these nerve paths, which causes shingles. The symptoms are rashes along affected nerves.

Shingles Chart By Age

Risks Factors

As mentioned earlier, shingles can only develop in individuals who have been exposed to the varicella zoster virus earlier in their life. Some risk factors for the development of shingles include:

  • Increasing age: Shingles can rarely develop in children, but is many times more common in adults, and seniors. This is likely due to the weakening of the immune system as age increases. In fact, an estimated fifty percent of all cases of shingles are in adults, 60 years and older.
  • Weakened Immune System: Any condition that weakens the immune system, such as age, stress, or diseases such as cancer and HIV/AIDS, all increase the chance of shingles developing. This is due to the virus taking advantage of the body’s weakened state to develop itself.

Signs and Symptoms of Shingles

Someone who develops shingles will notice burning, itching, or stinging in the region where the rash will soon develop. In certain cases, this can be very severe pain, and causes the skin to be very sensitive. Typically, the rash will appear only a few days after these symptoms. There is also a rare case where the singles rash will not appear (zoster sine herpete).

The varicella zoster virus can be transmitted through direct contact with the fluid from the blistering rash. Coughing and sneezing are not able to transmit shingles, and after the shingle rash dries and crusts, it is not considered to be contagious.



The way to treat shingles is by weakening the effects of the virus, and pain management in the individual. Typically, shingles can be treated and managed at home, except for the cases where the individual with shingles have severe symptoms or have damaged immune systems, in which case professional medical treatment is necessary.

Medication that combats viral infections helps to treat the virus faster, and decrease its severity. These are most effective when used within seventy two hours of the first appearance of symptoms. As mentioned before, pain killers or itch relievers are good ways to combat the discomfort caused by the symptoms. In cases of severe pain or discomfort, stronger opioid pain killers may be needed.


In the United States, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved a vaccine for shingles (Zostavax), which gives the immune system a boost, and is administered once. This vaccine is only approved for individuals who are fifty years of age or older. According to studies, it has been shown to also significantly reduce the risk of getting shingles by approximately sixty percent.

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