How Do You Get Shingles

Shingles is a virus that causes nerve pain and results in a rash which can be painful, irritating and itchy. The condition commonly lasts between two and five weeks and affects around 250,000 people each year. Despite being a fairly common virus, many of the ins and outs of shingles are not known and one frequently asked question is “how do you get shingles?”

How a person develops shingles

As children many of us are exposed to chickenpox, it is a mild and trivial viral infection that causes a rash of red spots and blisters which turn into fluid filled blisters before drying out and scabbing over. The treatments for chickenpox include itch relief creams and lotions, a mild painkiller and keeping well hydrated. Once a person has had chickenpox their body builds up the antibodies to ensure immunity from the condition and although it is possible to develop the condition again, the chances are slim.

The virus that causes chickenpox is called herpes varicella-zoster; this is the key element in answering “how do you get shingles?” After the chickenpox has healed not all of the herpes varicella-zoster virus goes away and some particles can remain in the roots of the nerves next to the spinal cord. These particles will remain inactive and cause no symptoms or harm to the nerves and can remain this way for many years.

Shingles is caused when the herpes varicella-zoster particles begin to multiply and become reactive, causing pain infection in the nerve and travelling along the route of the nerve causing damage to the surrounding skin.

The exact reason for the cause of reactivation is not completely known and shingles can affect a person for no apparent reason. A common link to reactivation is when the immune system (the body’s natural defence) can no longer keep the virus inactive after being weakened somehow. There are various reasons for a weakened immune system including:

  • Old age
  • Stress (physical and mental)
  • Poor nutrition
  • Immune system suppression medication such as steroids, chemotherapy and radiotherapy
  • Medication as a result of organ transplants.

Keeping immune system levels high

With the answer to “how do you get shingles?” being commonly linked to a weakened immune system, it is important that immune levels are kept high to prevent the virus from reactivating, and for those currently suffering from shingles, to speed up recovery.

Eating the correct food is the best way to keep immune system levels high and regular portions of fruit, vegetables and grains as-well as fish containing omega-3 will put you in a good position to keep the shingles virus at bay. Taking a daily multivitamin and drinking plenty of fruit can also be beneficial.

Stress is a common answer in “how do you get shingles?” as it releases a chemical known as cortisol into the body which is a leading factor in low immunity levels. Spending as much time as possible relaxing, having fun and partaking in activities such as meditation or prayer can be excellent to reduce stress and fend off shingles.



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