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Shingles (herpes zoster)

Dec 21, 1998

What is the average amount of time or average T-cell count for shingles to occur after being infected with HIV?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your question.

Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is caused by a reactivation of the varicella zoster virus (the virus that causes chickenpox). There are an estimated 300,000 cases of shingles every year in the USA alone. Shingles causes painful skin lesions that occur along nerve tracts, often on the truck of the body. Pain may persist even after the visible symptoms go away (in some cases for as long as a year later). The symptoms may be more severe in people with weakened immune systems (from HIV and other causes). A person can get shingles regardless of whether they have HIV or not. Therefore, having shingles does not, in itself, indicate a person has HIV.

There are several factors that can increase the chances of getting shingles including:

aging (by age 80, almost 15% of people will have at least one episode of shingles). intrauterine infection with the varicella virus. having chicken pox before 18 months of age. vaccination with the varicella vaccine (very rare, and symptoms are usually very mild). immunosupression (from AIDS and other causes).

When shingles is associated with HIV, it generally appears when the CD4 cell count goes below 500. This usually occurs years after infection with the HIV virus. If a person has been diagnosed with shingles, they should talk to their doctor to determine what factors may have led to reactivation of the varicella zoster virus. If the symptoms of shingles are unusually very severe, a person should talk to their doctor about being tested for HIV and other diseases of the immune system. But remember, a person can get shingles, even if they do not have HIV.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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