Almost 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles, also known as herpes zoster, in their lifetime. There are an estimated 1 million cases of shingles each year in this country. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles; even children can get shingles. However, the risk of shingles increases as you get older.
Some people have a greater risk of getting shingles. This includes people who
- have medical conditions that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as certain cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and
- receive immunosuppressive drugs, such as steroids and drugs that are given after organ transplantation.
Most people who develop shingles have only one episode during their lifetime. However, a person can have a second or even a third episode.
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in the body. Scientists aren’t sure why the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles.