Shingles Home > Shingles Risk Factors

There are several shingles risk factors that can put you at a higher risk of developing shingles. These risk factors include a weakened immune system, advanced age, and the development of chickenpox during pregnancy. Keep in mind, however, that shingles can occur in anyone with the varicella-zoster virus in the body.

An Overview of Shingles Risk Factors

Shingles is a condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you recover from chickenpox (or have the chickenpox vaccine), the virus does not leave your body, but continues to live in some nerve cells. For reasons that aren't totally understood, the virus can become active instead of remaining inactive. When it is activated, it produces shingles.
Anyone with the varicella-zoster virus in his or her body can be at risk for getting shingles. Right now there is no way of knowing who will get shingles disease. But, there are things that make you more likely to get shingles. These "shingles risk factors" include:
  • Advanced age
  • Problems with the immune system
  • Chickenpox during pregnancy.
Advanced Age
About 25 percent of all adults, mostly otherwise healthy, will get shingles during their lifetime, usually after age 40. The incidence increases with age. For example, shingles is 10 times more likely to occur in adults over 60 than in children under 10.
Immune System Problems
Your immune system is the part of your body that fights off infections. Age can affect your immune system. So can an HIV infection (or AIDS), cancer, cancer drugs, radiation treatments, or an organ transplant. Even stress or a cold can weaken your immune system for a short time and put you at risk for shingles.
Chickenpox During Pregnancy
Youngsters whose mothers had chickenpox late in pregnancy -- 5 to 21 days before giving birth -- or who had chickenpox in infancy have an increased risk of pediatric shingles. Sometimes these children are born with chickenpox or develop a typical case within a few days.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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