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Risk Factors for Shingles

You can only get shingles if you already had chickenpox and the dormant virus from the chickenpox infection becomes reactivated. Since only 20% of people who have had chickenpox develop shingles, researchers are still trying to determine what makes some people more likely to develop shingles than others.

Some of the factors that make people more likely to develop shingles include:

Health Conditions

If you have a weakened immune system, you are more likely to develop shingles. Conditions that increase your risk include:

  • History of childhood cancer
  • Current cancer, especially Hodgkin lymphoma, lymphoma, and leukemia
  • HIV infection or AIDS
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic health conditions that may alter your immune system

Medications and Procedures

Certain procedures and medications may increase your risk, such as:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Steroids
  • Medications to suppress the immune system


People over age 60 are more likely to develop shingles than younger people.

Ethnic Background

Caucasian people are more likely than African Americans to develop shingles.

Revision Information

  • Herpes zoster. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 20, 2013. Accessed May 30, 2013.

  • Shingles (herpes zoster). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated January 10, 2011. Accessed May 30, 2013.

  • 6/9/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance. Forbes H, Bhaskaran K, Thomas SL, Smeeth L, Clayton T, Langan SM. Quantification of risk factors for herpes zoster: population based case-control study. BMJ 2014;348:g2911.