MIAMI (CBS4) – The number of people with shingles, a potentially painful virus that hits when a person’s immune system is down and stress levels are up, has skyrocketed in recent years.
There’s something that has also changed – it’s not just older people contracting it.
College life for Caroline Radaj was fun but stressful. 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.
Radaj said when a rash popped up on top of the pain, an internet search led her to the diagnosis. A campus doctor confirmed it, much to their surprise.
“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 Radaj.
While most people would be surprised that someone in college came down with a case of the shingles, researchers say shingle cases are up six fold across all age groups.
“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 who authored a study on shingles.
Yawn said they are still trying to figure out why there’s an increase in the number of people developing shingles.
“We’ve looked at several factors, like are there more people that are immunosuppressed, uh 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,” said Yawn. “Does it have to do with more people coming to the doctor when they have shingles? Well, a six-fold increase is a little hard to believe for that. So, we’re actually right back where we started. We don’t know.”
Yawn said they are not sure if younger people who develop shingles will get it again and again.
“If you got your first at 80, it’s not very long till 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.
So what can younger people do if the develop shingles? A vaccine exists, but can currently only be used by people 50 and over.
“So we really don’t have anything to offer these people,” said Yawn.
Researchers say they may have the answer in the next fiver years or so. In the meantime, they expect the number of younger people getting shingles to drop, since many of them have received the chicken pox vaccine. People must have had the chicken pox to get shingles.