The varicella-zoster virus is the cause of both shingles and chickenpox. Once a chickenpox infection runs its course, the virus goes dormant in the body and is stored in the spinal nerves. The virus can reactivate later in life, producing the symptoms of shingles. How shingles and chickenpox present differs slightly. One crucial fact about shingles is that it can only develop in people who have had chickenpox earlier in their life. If a person who has never had chickenpox comes in contact with the shingles virus, they will likely develop the symptoms of chickenpox, not shingles.
The reactivation process of the shingles virus is not fully understood. However, research suggests that natural weakening of the immune system due to older age is a significant risk factor. For younger, healthy people, extreme stress plays a big part in weakening the immune system, which may lead to reactivation. This also means those with immune-compromising conditions such as HIV and cancer are at a higher risk of developing shingles. People on long-term steroid medication may also have increased risk of shingles.
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