According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shingles affects nearly one-third of the United States population, with roughly one million new cases of the infection diagnosed annually. Shingles, or herpes zoster, is characterized by a painful and blistering rash that spreads on the skin along a nerve zone anywhere on the body. There are several factors that can contribute to an individual's susceptibility to a shingles outbreak, and there is one preventative measure to avert it.

Chicken Pox

Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This virus also causes chickenpox. If you have had the chickenpox virus, then you were left with a parting gift once you recovered, which is the varicella zoster virus that has since remained in a dormant state within your nerve cells.  This is a required predisposing factor that puts you at risk of experiencing a shingles attack in the future. There are additional risk factors that, combined with the presence of the dormant virus, can increase an individual's chances of developing a shingles outbreak.

Age, Gender and Ethnicity

If you are older than 50 years of age, your risk of experiencing a shingles outbreak rises over time as your body ages and your immune system's ability to fight off infection declines. According to Kristi M. Saunders, MD, the incidence of shingles is higher in women, particularly after menopause, than it is in men. If you are an expectant mother and contract the varicella virus during pregnancy, you can pass along a heightened risk to your infant for developing shingles during his or her first two years of life. Children who receive the varicella vaccine to protect them against chickenpox have a lower risk of shingles. This risk even lower for African-American children than it is for Caucasian children, according to a study that was published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.

Health Compromises and Illnesses

Certain health conditions that can result in compromised immune systems can raise your risk of a shingles outbreak.  Some of these illnesses include:

  • Diabetes
  • Human immunodeficiency virus
  • Cancer

The forms of cancer that pose the highest risk include leukemia, lymphoma and Hodgkin's disease.  Childhood cancer survivors are predisposed to experience a bout with shingles during adulthood. 

During periods of extreme emotional or physical stress, the body's resistance is compromised.  Stressful life events, such as as the death of a loved one, can trigger a shingles outbreak at any point in time within six months following the event.

Treatments and Medications

Certain treatments and medications can increase your likelihood of experiencing a shingles outbreak.  Some of these include the following: 

  • Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy drugs and radiation
  • Longterm use of steroidal medications 
  • Drugs administered to transplant patients to prevent organ rejection
  • Medications that are used to treat patients with such autoimmune diseases as Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and multiple sclerosis

In addition to a number of risks of shingles outbreaks, the infection itself can pose serious complications.

Shingles Complications

For some individuals, shingles outbreaks can be mild. For others, however, they can be severe and pose risks for complications. Some of these complications include the following:

  • Pain can persist for months after a shingles outbreak has ended. This longterm pain is referred to as postherpetic neuralgia.
  • Shingles can affect the cranial nerves, causing detriments to hearing and vision. 
  • Internal organs, such as the liver, pancreas, gastrointestinal tract, heart and lungs, can be adversely affected when the rash spreads over large areas of the chest or abdomen. 
  • Blood vessels can become inflamed, which can lead to blockages and stroke.

Fortunately, there is one thing that you can do to lower your risk for shingles and these complications.

Varicella Zoster Virus Immunization

While many shingles risk factors are beyond your control, a vaccine is available to help defend your body against a shingles outbreak. This vaccine has been demonstrated to reduce your risk for a shingles outbreak by more than half, according to Cleveland Clinic's Robert Bolash, MD.  It is recommended that children receive the chicken pox vaccine, and healthy adults aged 60 years and older should strongly consider getting immunized with the shingles vaccine, even if you have already experienced a shingles outbreak during your lifetime. Vaccination is the most proactive method for reducing your risk of developing shingles.

For more information, contact companies like Choice Medical Group.