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Shingles and CFS: One Virus May Explain Both Conditions


A shingles rash forms blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and that clears up within 2 to 4 weeks.

Doctors have long suspected that those who suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), may be infected with a virus. The problem has always been obtaining sufficient evidence to back this hypothesis.

Now, however, at least one study found that individuals who experience a shingles (herpes zoster) outbreak are almost twice as likely to develop Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). (1)

“Infection of the peripheral ganglia causes at least some cases of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), with a neurotropic herpesvirus, particularly varicella-zoster virus (VZV).” (See Medical Hypotheses, from 2009) (2)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complex disorder accompanied by unexplained, persistent fatigue (tired and weak all the time), in which several factors contribute to the development of the disease, such as latent viral infections.

Man with CFS

Dr. JS Shapiro wrote in the study quoted above that “virtually all CFS symptoms could be produced by an infection of the peripheral ganglia, with infection of the autonomic ganglia causing fatigue, postural hypotension, and sleep disturbances, and infection of the sensory ganglia causing sensory symptoms such as chronic pain.” (2) Dr. Shapiro is from the University of Michigan.

What he means, is that when the latent VZV infects the nerves, individuals can experience long term loss of memory or concentration, feeling unrefreshed after sleep, muscle pain, headaches, multi-joint pain without redness or swelling, and a frequent sore throat.

By itself, this doesn’t suggest that the virus, which causes shingles, also causes CFS.

However, Dr. Shapiro continued, writing that “infections of the peripheral ganglia are known to cause long-term nerve dysfunction, which would help explain the chronic course of CFS. Herpesviruses have long been suspected as the cause of CFS; this theory has recently been supported by studies showing that administering antiherpes agents causes substantial improvement in some CFS patients.” (2)

As we are sure you know, “Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body in a dormant (inactive) (latent) state. For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later, causing shingles.” (See the CDC’s website last updated on January 10, 2011) (3).

Apparently, according to the findings of these new studies, the latent varicella zoster virus may also be the cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

If you would like to learn more about latent viruses and the chronic conditions and diseases that they can cause, we suggest that you visit the website of the Center for the Biology of Chronic Disease.

-The Team

Click to learn more about latent viruses like VZV.



(1) Tsai SY1, Yang TY, Chen HJ, Chen CS, Lin WM, Shen WC, Kuo CN, Kao CH. Increased risk of chronic fatigue syndrome following herpes zoster: a population-based study. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 2014 Sep;33(9):1653-9.

(2) Shapiro JS. Does varicella-zoster virus infection of the peripheral ganglia cause Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? Med Hypotheses. 2009 Nov;73(5):728-34.

(3) – Shingles (Herpes Zoster) – Signs & Symptoms


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