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Shingles: A Painful Skin Condition


Shingles is a disease that causes a painful, blistering skin rash. It affects the nervous system, and is curiously caused by varicella-zoster, the same disease that causes chicken pox. While we recover from the chicken pox, the virus does not actually leave the body, and in fact sits dormant within us, lingering in some nerve cells. It is not known or understood why the virus can reactivate later in life, causing shingles.

As with chicken pox, people who are affected with shingles will feel sick, as well as having a rash on their body and their face. The most apparent difference is that chicken pox is generally understood to be a childhood disease, whereas shingles affects adults later in life, mostly after reaching 50 years of age. Not everyone who has chicken pox when they’re younger will go on to have shingles. It affects about one in five people who previously suffered from chicken pox.

The signature rashes on the body are caused by the virus activating in the nerve cell and traveling up through the body. The rashes usually show up as a band on one side of the face or body. Shingles comes from the word for belt in Latin, referring to the characteristic appearance of the rashes.

Anyone who has had chicken pox once in their life remains at risk of later developing shingles. Age and a weaker immune system are all risk factors. The immune system weakens naturally as we age, but those with suppressed or compromised immune systems are especially at risk.