Shingles causes are closely linked to the varicella-zoster virus. The varicella-zoster virus is the primary culprit behind both chickenpox and shingles. When an individual contracts chickenpox, which is most common during childhood, the varicella-zoster virus enters the body. After the initial infection, the body’s immune system works to suppress and control the virus, resulting in recovery from chickenpox. However, the virus does not completely disappear. Instead, it finds refuge in the nervous system, where it can remain dormant for years, sometimes for an entire lifetime.
It is this dormancy that sets the stage for the development of shingles. The reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus can occur when the immune system’s ability to keep the virus in check weakens, allowing the virus to resurface. When this happens, it travels along the nerve pathways, often manifesting as a painful rash on the skin.
Factors that Reactivate VZV and Cause Shingles
Following is a list of the main causes that make a person develop shingles by reactivating the varicella-zoster virus.
Shingles displays a noticeable predilection for older adults, typically occurring more frequently in individuals over the age of 50. This phenomenon is closely tied to the aging process and how it affects the immune system. As people grow older, their immune response gradually weakens, making it less effective at controlling latent viruses in the body. The varicella-zoster virus, responsible for both chickenpox and shingles, can take advantage of this weakened immune surveillance, leading to its reactivation. The body’s ability to keep the virus in check diminishes over time, which is why older adults are more susceptible to shingles.
2. Weakened Immune System
A weakened or compromised immune system is a key contributor to the development of shingles. Conditions such as HIV, cancer, or the use of immunosuppressive medications significantly impair the body’s ability to fight off infections. When the immune system is compromised, it cannot effectively keep the varicella-zoster virus in check, allowing it to reactivate and manifest as shingles. Individuals with compromised immunity are at a considerably higher risk of experiencing more severe and prolonged shingles outbreaks.
Stress is a significant factor in the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus and the development of shingles. Highstress levels can weaken the immune system, making it more susceptible to viral outbreaks. The exact mechanisms through which stress influences shingles are still being researched, but it is believed that chronic stress can disrupt the balance of immune cells and the body’s ability to control latent viruses. This is why stressful life events, ongoing anxiety, or mental strain can trigger the reactivation of the virus, leading to the painful rash and other symptoms associated with shingles.
4. Chronic Illness
Chronic illnesses, including conditions like diabetes and autoimmune diseases, can contribute to an increased risk of shingles. These underlying health issues often affect the immune system’s functioning, creating a less effective defense against infections. Diabetes, for instance, can lead to nerve damage, increasing the risk of developing localized cases of shingles, known as zoster sine herpete. Autoimmune diseases can disrupt the body’s immune response, making it less capable of suppressing the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus.
This infection can be prevented from developing by getting immunized against it. Shingles is a vaccination preventable disease, and immunization offers an effective defense against the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, reducing the risk of enduring the pain and discomfort associated with shingles. If you suspect any underlying causes or symptoms that may increase your risk of shingles, it is imperative to consult a healthcare provider. They can diagnose the infection and help you with the necessary information to recover from it.