Shingles is caused by the varicella virus, the same virus that brings about chicken pox. After a person contracts and finishes a bout with chicken pox, the inactive virus seems to stick around inside the body and, in some cases, comes back to life as the varicella-zoster virus. This time, the virus attacks the body in the form of shingles. Not a common occurrence in children, when shingles does appear, it generally does not cause any alarming health problems other than the typical signs of a red rash and blisters along one side of the body. Although it is not exactly known why the virus reactivates, there are a few situations that can lead to a bout with shingles.
Shingles can occur in children who are in poor health. If the body’s immune system is weak, the virus can overcome the body’s internal defenses and become active again. This situation can occur in children who have contracted AIDS, who are going through a tough battle with Hodgkin’s disease and other forms of cancer, or who have other debilitating illnesses that result in a weak body system. Chemotherapy is reported to sometimes causing a reactivation of the virus.
Any child who has not received the varicella virus vaccine, or Varivax, has a greater chance of contracting chicken pox first and a later bout with shingles. After the chicken pox clears, the virus remains in the child’s nerve cells and can reactivate at any time. Getting children vaccinated against contracting chicken pox in the first place can be an added defense to guard against shingles. Even if a child does get chicken pox, the effects of the vaccine can help lessen the severity of both chicken pox and shingles.
Chicken Pox Bout
Although shingles can occur in any child who has had chicken pox before, some studies have shown that the risk of getting shingles is somewhat greater if a child had contracted shingles before turning 1 year old. The likelihood of a child getting shingles is very slim. It most commonly occurs in adults and especially the elderly. It has been reported that only 5 percent of children under age 15 contract shingles.
Certain drugs used to treat autoimmune diseases and with organ transplants, such as azathioprine, chlorambucil, cyclophosphamide, cyclosporine and cladribine, may trigger a bout with shingles. These drugs can be used for various medical conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease.
Some say that extreme sunburn or exposure to strong winds can trigger a shingles reaction, although this is very rare.