Shingles runs in the family

According to new research from the U.S. shingles (herpes zoster) may run in families.

Scientists from Texas University Medical School in Houston suggest that sufferers are more likely to report a family history of the condition.

Shingles appears when the virus that causes chickenpox, varicella zoster, is reactivated in spinal nerves; most adults carry the varicella zoster virus, but only 10 percent to 30 percent develop shingles.

Shingles causes nerve pain and a blistering rash and risk factors can include depression and other illnesses.

The skin rash can last up to five weeks and the pain continue for months or even years; untreated, shingles can cause irreversible nerve damage.

The risk for getting shingle rises at around age 50, and is highest among the elderly where it can also suppress immunity.

Sex, ethnicity, stress, trauma and exposure to heavy metals also may play a role.

Recently, genetic risk factors have also been suggested for shingles and other infectious diseases associated with decreased immunity.

Dr. Lindsey D. Hicks, and colleagues compared 504 patients treated for herpes zoster between 1992 and 2005 to 523 control individuals with other minor or chronic skin conditions treated at the same clinic.

The patients provided demographic data and answered questions about their personal and family history of herpes zoster and the researchers found that a significantly higher proportion of cases reported having a family history of shingles.

The researchers say individuals with herpes zoster were more than 4 times as likely to have a first-degree relative and more than 4 times as likely to have another relative with a history of the condition.

They say this group may be at increased risk of developing shingles and are therefore candidates for vaccination against herpes zoster infection.

There is no cure for shingles and experts advise people to have a single dose of Zostavax, the only vaccine to prevent shingles, even if they had a prior bout of shingles.

The research is published in the May issue of Archives of Dermatology, a JAMA publication.

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