Shingles is a virus caused by the varicella-zoster virus - the same virus that causes chickenpox. It most commonly occurs in adults who have had chickenpox as a child. Even though chickenpox eventually clears up, the virus stays in the body and remains dormant until another event like an illness or chronic stress triggers it and causes it to become active again. Shingles can also occur in people did not have chickenpox as a child and who never had the chickenpox vaccine. Shingles causes a very painful rash of tiny blisters that can occur anywhere on the body, but usually appear on the torso. Before the rash develops, many people will experience nerve pain, numbness or burning sensations in the area where the rash will eventually appear.
No, not everyone who had chickenpox will develop shingles, but it does become more common with age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates shingles affects about 10 out of every 1,000 Americans over age 60.
Researchers aren't certain why the dormant chickenpox virus becomes reactivated in some people and not in others, but they do know shingles outbreaks are more common among older people with weakened immune systems. The shingles virus can be passed on to anyone who is not immune to chickenpox, including people who did not have chickenpox as children and who were not vaccinated. Transmission of the virus most often occurs through skin-to-skin contact.
Although there is no medication to cure shingles, medications and treatments are available to help shorten the course of the disease or to lessen its severity and reduce the risk of complications like vision loss, nerve damage and skin infections. Medications can also help manage pain associated with shingles.
The shingles vaccine is an injection designed to prevent shingles outbreaks. The CDC recommends the vaccine for anyone 60 years of age and older and other people at risk of an outbreak.
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