Shingles is a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, a type of herpes virus that causes Reference chickenpox Opens New Window. After you have had chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in your Reference nerve roots Opens New Window and remains inactive until, in some people, it flares up again. When the virus becomes active again, you get shingles instead of chickenpox.
Anyone who has had even a mild case of chickenpox can get shingles. People who have a weak Reference immune system Opens New Window are vulnerable to reactivation of the virus that causes shingles. Many things can weaken your immune system, including:
- Being age 50 or older.
- Recent surgery.
- Medicines. These include medicines used to kill cancer cells (chemotherapy) and medicines that reduce the effects of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), such as infliximab and etanercept.
- Radiation therapy.
- Serious illness or disease, such as cancer or AIDS.
- Poor nutrition.
- Chronic diseases that suppress the immune system, such as diabetes, lupus, or HIV.
- Organ transplant.
Exposure to shingles will not cause you to get shingles. But if you have not had chickenpox and have not gotten the chickenpox vaccine, you can get chickenpox if you are exposed to shingles. Someone with shingles can expose you to chickenpox if you come into contact with the fluid in the shingles blisters. If you cover the shingles sores with a type of dressing that absorbs fluid and protects the sores, you can help prevent the spread of the virus to other people.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference June 5, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Reference Nancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology