Shingles is an infection of a nerve and the area of skin around it. It is caused by the herpes varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. Most people have chickenpox in childhood, but after the illness has gone, the virus remains dormant (inactive) in the nervous system. The immune system (the body's natural defence system) keeps the virus in check, but later in life it can be reactivated and cause
Shingles usually affects a specific area on either the left or right side of the body.
The main symptoms are:
- a rash, which develops into itchy blisters and then scabs over
How common is shingles?
It is estimated that about 3 people in every 1,000 have shingles in the UK every year, so the figure for Ireland may be similar.
Shingles can occur at any age, but is most common in people who are over 50 years of age. Among people who are over 80 years of age, about 11 people in every 1,000 have shingles each year. Shingles is much less common in children.
It is unknown exactly why the shingles virus is reactivated at a later stage in life, but it may be due to having lowered immunity (protection). This may be the result of:
- being older
- being stressed
- a condition that affects your immune system, such as HIV and AIDS