Shingles virus up in all age groups

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - College life for Caroline Radaj was fun but stressful; and that was before she ended up with a painful case of shingles.

"It felt like either I had a pinched nerve or that just someone was constantly stabbing me," said Radaj.

When a rash popped up on top of the pain, an internet search led her to the diagnosis.  A campus doctor confirmed it, though even they seemed stunned.

Caroline Radaj, had shingles in College "It's something that happens in older people, so for it to happen to a young college student they were a little bit baffled at that," said the college student.

It may sound surprising, but researchers say cases are up sixfold across all age groups, and college kids are no exception.

"Instead of maybe one every three or four months, you may be having two or three each month in the college and that stands out," said Dr. Barbara Yawn, an expert on the virus.

Researchers don't know why it's on the rise.

"We've looked at several factors like are there more people that are immunosuppressed?  Was it around the time the chicken pox vaccine in children? That isn't true. Did it have to do with when antivirals were introduced? No.  Does it have to do with more people coming to the doctor when they have shingles? Well, a sixfold increase is a little hard to believe for that," said Yawn. "So, we're actually right back where we started. We don't know."

They also don't know if these younger shingles sufferers will get it again and again.

"If you got your first at 80 it's not very long 'til you won't have to worry about it. But if you get your first episode of shingles at 18 or 20, you've got another 60-70 years that you're at risk and our data suggests that the risk of recurrence is higher than the risk of occurrence," said Yawn.

While a vaccine exists, it's currently only for people 50 and older.

Researchers say more answers should be found in the next five years.  Meantime, they expect that the numbers of younger people getting shingles should start to drop, since many of those students received the chicken pox vaccine.  You must have already had the chicken pox in order to get shingles.

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