Shingles in children is a rare condition. Less than 5 per cent of all shingles sufferers are children. The disease, which is characterised by a rash, occurs as the second stage of chickenpox. The disease is most prevalent in adults over the age of 50. However, when shingles does occur in children, the symptoms don't always mirror those of adult shingles.
Most adults have had chickenpox at one point or another. The condition is caused by the varicella zoster virus. Prior to 1995, there was not a commercially available vaccine on the American market. Currently, many children receive the vaccine, which lowers the child's chance of contracting chickenpox and eventually shingles.
After a child or adult contracts chickenpox, the varicella zoster virus can remain dormant in their body's nerve cells. Often, it will remain dormant for the rest of their lives, but in 1 per cent of all people who contract chickenpox, the condition will return as shingles. Although shingles can appear at any age, it typically shows up in patients over 20, with the majority of sufferers being middle-aged or older.
In adults, shingles will begin with flu-like symptoms, including muscle aches, fever and chills. The virus will then cause severe pain in the nerves, a burning sensation and blistering of the skin on the torso. In children, there is no pain or fever associated with the condition. The disease may take up to five weeks to run its course.
Once shingles reaches the blistering stage, it can be contagious by direct contact to people who have not had chickenpox. Children should be kept away from individuals who have not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine at this stage to prevent spreading the varicella zoster virus. However, if it is spread, the infected patient will develop chickenpox rather than shingles. Unlike chickenpox, which may be spread through airborne droplets, varicella zoster in shingles can only be spread through direct contact.
It is thought that a weakened immune system may play a factor in determining whether a patient will get shingles. This may be why older patients develop shingles more frequently. In children, shingles tends to show up if a child has a compromised immune system.
A child who develops chickenpox early in life is at a greater risk for developing shingles. According to Novartis Pharmaceuticals, one third of all children whose mothers had chickenpox while pregnant, or who developed chickenpox within their first year of life, also developed shingles by the time they were five years old.