Shingles: The Cause
Shingles, commonly known as herpes zoster, is caused by a particular virus, varicella-zoster. Upon initial infection with the virus, chicken pox develops. In most individuals, the virus is never entirely eradicated from the system, but remains dormant. Re-activation of this dormant state of the virus is known as shingles. There is no effective way in which to predict the period of dormancy or activation of the virus.
Shingles: Contagious Factors
The varicella-zoster virus is highly contagious. Upon initial infection, it is spread through close contact, especially due to the fact that the virus can travel by air in the form of sneezing and coughing. Fluid from chicken pox and shingles blisters are also highly contagious. Typically there are periods where the infected individual is more contagious. This is during the first days of infection, before symptoms may even appear.
Risk Factors Associated with Shingles
The main risk factor for development of shingles is dependent upon infection of the chicken pox virus, varicella-zoster. Shingles is the dormant form of chicken pox and therefore it is not possible to suffer from shingles without first infection of chicken pox. It is important to note that it is common for healthy individuals to develop shingles and exact re-activation mechanisms are not currently understood, but are researched. There are many common risk factors correlated with re-activation of the virus. However, having one or all of these risk factors does not guarantee re-activation.
- Age: It is more common to for development of shingles in older adults, typically over the age of 50.
- Immune system deficiencies: A weakened immune system allows for infections that the body could normally suppress and/or destroy to have greater effects than usual.
- Traumatic/stressful events: Events with these effects are typically associated with higher influence rates of shingles infections.
- Pregnancy: Women who are pregnant are at more of a risk
- Development of chicken pox as an infant: The exact reason for this risk factor is not completely understood, but a trend exists that an individual infected with chicken pox as an infant has a higher rate of incidence for shingles activation.
- Cancer: Individuals with cancer, especially those receiving radiation treatment, are more susceptible to shingles infections.
- Damage/injury to area of previous shingles infection
Unfortunately, it is possible for shingles to develop in any individual infected with the chicken pox virus. There is an effective vaccine for prevention of chicken pox that also prevents shingles, as the later development of shingles is impossible without prior chicken pox infection. A shingles vaccination exists that is known for prevention of further outbreaks or a reduction in pain with outbreaks. Natural treatment options are always the best choice when treating shingles.