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Shingles is a condition that happens when the varicella zoster virus (VZV) reactivates. VZV is the virus that causes chickenpox.

Shingles most often occurs in people who’ve had chickenpox. However, people who’ve received the chickenpox vaccine can also sometimes develop the condition.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, most of the people who develop shingles are adults more than 50 years old.

However, the incidence of shingles has also been increasing in younger adults as well. In fact, one 2016 study showed that the rate of shingles has been going up in all age groups.

Keep reading to learn why young adults develop shingles, symptoms to look for, and how to prevent against it.

Shingles can develop in anyone who’s had chickenpox. After you recover from chickenpox, VZV remains dormant (inactive) within nerve cells in your body.

In some cases, VZV is triggered to reactivate. When this happens, the virus begins to replicate (multiply) again and move along the affected nerves. When it reaches your skin, the characteristic shingles rash develops.

What causes VZV to reactivate is unknown. However, reactivation is associated with a weakened immune system.

A weakened immune system can occur due to age. But in younger adults, the immune system can be compromised by acute or chronic illness or extreme stress.

People who are immunocompromised have a higher risk of developing shingles regardless of age.

What if I’ve had the vaccine for chickenpox?

Many young adults have had the vaccine for VZV, the virus that causes chickenpox. Although uncommon, it’s still possible to develop shingles if you’ve had the vaccine.

People who’ve received the VZV vaccine are at a lower risk for developing shingles. For example, a 2019 study in children found that the incidence of shingles was 78 percent lower in children who received the VZV vaccine than those who didn’t.

Overall, younger people who get shingles typically have a milder illness. This means that the rash and associated pain may not be as severe as it would be in an older adult. Most adults who have shingles don’t develop it again.

It’s still important to talk with your doctor if you suspect that you have shingles. This is because taking antiviral medications shortly after your symptoms start can help to reduce symptoms and shorten their duration.

Whether you’ve had chickenpox or shingles, the best way to protect against developing shingles in the future is through vaccination. The shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, consists of 2 doses spaced out between 2 to 6 months.

The catch? According to the FDA, it’s currently only indicated for use in adults 50 years and older. Shingrix hasn’t been studied in younger populations.

If you’re younger than 50 years old, you can ask your doctor about getting Shingrix. But it’s unlikely that they’ll recommend it — or that your insurance will cover it.

Since shingles is generally milder and rarer in younger adults, it may make sense to treat these cases as they occur instead of preparing for something that has a low chance of being life threatening — if it happens.

Although it’s more common in older adults, young adults can also develop shingles.

In fact, the incidence of shingles has been gradually increasing in adults of all ages over the past few decades. Why this is happening is currently unknown.

Shingles is a reactivation of VZV, the virus that causes chickenpox. VZV reactivation is associated with a weakened immune system. While this happens as we age, it can also occur due to factors like other illnesses or stress.

Because of the factors above, anyone who’s had chickenpox can develop shingles, regardless of age. Most adults who develop shingles only have it once.

Shingles in young adults is typically mild. Talk with your doctor if you believe you have shingles, even if you’re under 50 years old. Antiviral medications may help to reduce your symptoms and shorten their duration.