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Itchy and scratchy

Some families may harbor susceptibility to shingles

By
3:59pm, May 19, 2008

Having a close relative who has had a bout with shingles puts people at a heightened risk of suffering a similar outbreak, a new study finds.

A herpes virus called varicella zoster causes shingles and chickenpox. Since nearly everyone in the United States over age 25 has been exposed to the chickenpox virus, much of the population is at risk for shingles, which strikes in middle age and beyond. After causing a chickenpox infection, the virus lies dormant in nerves for decades. The virus can resurface as the nasty skin rash, blisters, itching and pain that mark a case of shingles. Some symptoms can last for weeks or months.

But only about one in five people exposed to chickenpox ultimately get shingles, says Stephen Tyring, a virologist and dermatologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Scientists suspect the immune system somehow keeps the virus bottled up in nerves better in some people than in others. People wit

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