Causes of Shingles

Who is at risk of getting affected by Shingles?

Shingles is caused by a virus known as varicella zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. People who have had a previous infection of chickenpox are at an increased risk of getting infected by shingles. This is because when a person gets chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus lives dormant in the nervous system and is never fully cleared from the body. This virus lives in an inactive state in the cell bodies of nerves that supply sensation to the skin. After several years, the dormant varicella zoster virus becomes active again in about 10 to 20 per cent of people. When reactivated, the virus multiplies and spreads along the nerve in which it has been lying in a dormant or an inactive state. This causes the development of the painful red rash that is the characteristic symptom of shingles.

What causes the dormant varicella zoster virus to flare up and cause shingles?

Varicella zoster virus lies dormant in the nervous system of the human body. The following conditions can cause the virus to be reactivated:

  • 1. Emotional stress can cause the virus to flare up

But a stressful situation such as extreme emotional stress can cause the virus to flare up and leads to the development of shingles.

  • 2. Advancing age increases the risk of getting shingles

People over 50 are at an increased risk of getting shingles as compared to the young people.

  • 3. Weak immune system as in AIDS may lead to the reactivation of the dormant virus

Shingles is also common in people with a weak immune system, such as people living with AIDS or people suffering from a major illness where the immune system is weak.

  • 4. Shingles is common in people with organ transplant or undergoing treatment for cancer

People, who are taking medications that suppress the immune system or people who have had an organ transplant or are undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments for cancer, are at an increased risk of developing shingles. It is also common in people, recovering from a trauma such as an accident or a major surgery.

  • 5. Viral infections can weaken the immune system and lead to the development of shingles

Even in simple cases where the person is recovering from viral infections such as common cold or influenza, his immune system is weak and he may develop shingles.

When the immune system is damaged or suppressed, shingles can be severe with an increased likelihood of complications such as the development of post herpetic neuralgia.

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