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Since shingles is caused by the chicken pox virus, only people who have previously had chicken pox can get shingles. Shingles occurs after a person's immune system is weakened. This happens naturally as one gets older, so older people are at a higher risk of getting shingles. Any other factors that weaken the body's immune system, such as AIDS, diabetes, Hodgkin's disease, leukemia, and some kinds of drugs such as steroids, will increase one's risk for shingles.

The older a person is when they get shingles, the more likely they are to develop PHN. Not only the incidence, but the severity and duration of PHN increase with age. It is possible for a young person to get shingles and PHN, but it is very uncommon. Other factors also may increase the risk that PHN will complicate an eruption of shingles. Studies have shown that the more pain a patient has at the beginning of the disease, the more likely that patient is to develop PHN (Rowbotham, 1992). The severity of the rash and the psychological distress that exists at the time of the rash may also be risk factors. In addition, patients whose shingles affect their forehead and eyes, known as ophthalmic shingles, may also be at increased risk for PHN.

Studies have shown that Caucasians are more likely to get shingles and PHN than people of African descent, Asians or Hispanics. Shingles is not directly contagious; one person with shingles cannot give shingles to another person. However, if somebody who has not yet had chicken pox comes into contact with shingles, he or she can catch the chicken pox.



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