Risk Factors for Shingles

Shingles: Multiple Risks and One Preventative

There are a number of known risks for developing shingles, an infection that afflicts roughly one million individuals within the United States each year. Anyone who has experienced a bout with shingles is all too familiar with the characteristic painful and blistering skin rash that spreads along a nerve zone anywhere on the body. The condition is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Therefore, anyone who has had the chickenpox virus is left with the varicella zoster virus that remains in a dormant state within the nerve cells. This is a required predisposing factor for these individuals to experience a shingles attack in the future. There are several other shingles causes that contribute to one's susceptibility to an outbreak, and there is one preventative measure to avert it.

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Age, Ethnicity and Gender

Individuals over the age of 50 have a steadily increasing risk of experiencing a shingles outbreak as the body's propensity for fighting off infection declines through the natural aging process.

Women who are afflicted with the chicken pox during pregnancy pass along a heightened risk to their infant for developing shingles during the first two years of life. Children who experience a bout of chicken pox during their first year of life are more likely to experience shingles before they reach adulthood.

Ethnicity and gender also play a role in the risk for shingles. African-American individuals are less likely to experience shingles than white Caucasians. Some studies have also shown an increased incidence of shingles among women.

Health Compromises and Illnesses

Conditions that result in compromised immunity are shingles causes. Some of these illnesses include:

  • Human immunodeficiency virus
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer

The forms of cancer that pose the highest risk include leukemia, lymphoma and Hodgkin's disease. Childhood cancer survivors are predisposed to experience a bout with shingles during adulthood.

During periods of extreme emotional or physical stress, the body's resistance is compromised. Such stressful life occurrences as the death of a loved one can trigger a shingles outbreak at any point in time within six months following the event.

Treatments and Medications

There are a number of treatments and medications that can increase one's likelihood of a shingles attack. Some of these include:

  • Cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy drugs
  • Medications that target the effects of tumor necrosis factors
  • Extended use of steroidal medications
  • Drugs administered to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients
  • Medications administered to treat patients with such autoimmune diseases as systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease

Lack of Varicella Zoster Virus Immunization

While the aforementioned shingle causes are beyond one's control, a vaccine is now available to defend the body against a shingles eruption. The vaccine contains a minute portion of weakened varicella zoster virus, triggering and strengthening an immune response in the body. The vaccine has been demonstrated to reduce one's risk for a shingles occurrence by more than half. It is highly recommended that children receive the vaccine against chicken pox, and healthy adults over the age of 60 should strongly consider pursuing the similar vaccine against shingles.

Shingles can range from mild to severe, with the more severe variations posing additional health risks. Some of these potential complications include the following:

  • An extended duration of pain, called postherpetic neuralgia, can last for months after a flare up of shingles has concluded.
  • Internal organs, such as the liver, pancreas, gastrointestinal tract, heart and lungs, can be adversely affected when the rash spreads over large areas of the chest or abdomen.
  • The infection can also affect the cranial nerves, causing detriments to aural and optical function.
  • Inflammation of blood vessels can lead to dangerous blockages, which can result in a stroke.

Vaccination is the most proactive method for reducing the risk of developing shingles and these potentially dangerous complications.

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