By Chen Chien-chih and Jake Chung / Staff reporter, with staff writer
Shingles, a condition common among elderly people, is becoming more common among young people, Asia University Hospital said, with doctors attributing the trend to irregular sleep schedules and stress.
The hospital treated a 21-year-old female university student surnamed Wu （吳）, who complained of rashes across her face, chest, and neck, Department of Infectious Diseases attending physician Chang Wei-shuo （張為碩） said.
Wu began following a routine of sleeping late, as her club was practicing for a year-end performance, Chang said.
After several days, she began to experience pain as if being burned or shocked on her left cheek, her chest and the left side of her neck, with a rash developing in those areas, Chang said, adding that she complained that painkillers had no effect.
Chang diagnosed Wu with shingles and after two weeks of treatment, the symptoms eased, he said.
Shingles is the result of infection by the varicella zoster virus and is common among those who had chickenpox as a child, Chang said.
The virus can lie dormant in ganglions — fluid-filled cysts associated with joints — if it was not entirely destroyed by the immune system’s response to chickenpox and can re-emerge when defenses are lower because of tiredness or illness, Chang said.
Shingles is more common among elderly people because of immune-system regression linked to aging or because of chronic conditions, Chang said.
However, diagnoses of shingles among young people have increased, perhaps attributable to a lack of regular schedules and late nights because of study or playing games, he said.
Blisters that form might carry the virus and can spread through contact or cause neuralgia — intense pain along the course of a nerve, Chang said.
Most rashes disappear within two to three weeks, but neuralgia varies from patient to patient, Chang said, adding that some people take as long as three months to fully recover.
The government on Dec. 1 lowered the threshold for National Health Insurance payouts for orally ingested medication, Chang said, adding that people should seek treatment at a clinic or hospital if they feel itching or pain on their body or one side of the face.
Asia University Hospital Department of Infectious Diseases attending physician Chang Wei-shuo, right, examines a patient at the hospital in Taichung on Dec. 20. Photo: Chen Chien-chih, Taipei Times