College life for Caroline Radaj was fun, but stressful. And that was before she ended up with a painful case of shingles. She says, "It felt like either i had a pinched nerve or that just someone was constantly stabbing me."
When a rash popped up on top of the pain, an internet search led her to the diagnosis. A campus doctor confirmed it, though even they seemed stunned.
In fact, lots of people are surprised to hear of someone in college with shingles. But researchers say cases are up six fold across all age groups, and college kids are no exception.
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.
Yawn says, "This was going on for about a week and it was excruciating pain."
Researchers don't know why it's on the rise.
"We've looked at several factors like are there more people that are immunosuppressed, uh was it around the time the chicken pox vaccine in children? That isn't true. Did it have to do with when antivirals 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," says Yawn.
They also don't know if these younger shingles patients will get it again and again.
Well, what can they do about it? A vaccine exists, but can currently only be used on people 50 and older.
That's not much comfort to Caroline and others like her.
Researchers say stay tuned the next five years or so for answers. They expect that the numbers of younger people getting shingles should start to drop, since many of those students received the chicken pox vaccine.
You must have already had the chicken pox in order to get shingles.