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Shingles cases on the rise, including in younger people

December 26, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Shingles is a virus that usually hits when your immune system is down and your stress level is up. Experts say the number of new cases is exploding. One thing that's changing? More and more young people are being hit by the virus.

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 showed up, an Internet search led her to the diagnosis. A campus doctor confirmed it, though even they seemed stunned.

"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.

In fact, lots of people are surprised to hear of someone in college suffering from shingles. But researchers say cases are up, 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, a shingles researcher.

Dr. Barbara Yawn authored a study on shingles recurrences. She says it's tough for someone in college already stressed out to miss class because of shingles. Technically they're not contagious, but it can be agonizing.

"This was going on for about a week and it was excruciating pain," said Radaj.

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

"We've looked at several factors like, Are there more people that are immune-suppressed? Was it around the time the chicken pox vaccine in children? That isn't true," said Dr. Yawn. "Did it have to do with when anti-virals were introduced? No. 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."

Researchers say stay tuned for answers in the next five years. Meanwhile, they expect cases of younger people getting shingles to drop, since many received the chicken pox vaccine.


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