Shingles is a skin condition characterized by the appearance of a rash with localized potency. It is basically a viral infection caused by Varicella-Zoster; the same virus that is responsible for chickenpox in human beings.


Mode Of Contraction


Shingles typically occurs in individuals who have been infected with chicken pox at some point during their life. Even when a person recovers from the latter condition completely, some viral varicella-zoster remains in body, usually subsisting in the nerves of the spinal region. For causes yet not fully understood, the dormant virus can be reactivated at any time, with its rapid multiplication of taking place. The virus spreads to specific nerve passages based on the nerve roots in which the virus was subsisting in dormancy. This is why, when the rash appears, it usually manifests in a band or strip-like formation and only on one side of the body. 


Primary Factors Increasing Vulnerability


Even as there is little definitive evidence of exactly what causes the reactivation of virus, there are certain factors that increase vulnerability to it. These include the following:


  • Old Age – Aged individuals of over 50 years are more likely to be victim to the shingles virus. Majority of cases occur in people between 60 to 80 years of age, with the burden of illness being double in intensity for those over 70.
  • Prior Medical History:
  1. Certain diseases increase vulnerability to shingles. Some cancers and immunity-compromising conditions like HIV or AIDS are known to add to the risk.
  2. Medical procedures such as chemotherapy or other radiation therapy also tend to lower resistance and thus increase possibility of shingles.
  3. Prior consumption of immunosuppressive drugs and prolonged steroid usage also increases vulnerability.
  • Children whose mothers’ contract chickenpox in the later stages of pregnancy, or who themselves have it in their infancy are more prone to having shingles at a very young age.


Who Is At Risk?


Medically so, any individual who has had chickenpox is at risk of contracting the disease. This is because the virus is already in their body and can be reactivated at any given time. However, experts suggest that it is usually people with weak immune systems who are most liable to contract it. It is then no wonder that older individuals or those either suffering from, or prior patients of immunity-comprising diseases, are most vulnerable to it.


It needs be clarified that it is not singularly prior chickenpox victims who can get shingles. In very rare cases, shingles can also manifest in people who have not yet contracted chickenpox, though as yet, the phenomenon is not very well understood. In this scenario, shingles may lead to a further skin infection or chickenpox, due to exposure to the very same virus.


Is it Contagious?


Shingles is non-communicable and cannot be passed on from one person to another. However, someone with shingles can pass on the virus to someone who has not had chickenpox and trigger that in the person. Thus, a shingles patient cannot transmit shingles to another individual, but can cause one to contract chickenpox.


It is thus recommended that an individual who exhibits symptoms of shingles should be kept away from others as far as possible, especially young infants and children. Their clothes, towel and medicines (of topical application) should not be shared with anyone. Moreover, a potential shingles victim must receive medical aid immediately – likely to have poor immunity, it is best to get them treated speedily or complications may occur later. These complications include allied diseases such as postherapetic neuralgia or PHP (which causes nerve pain to persist post recovery) or even skin and eye infections that can be of serious nature.