Can you get shingles more than once? The one way to reduce the likelihood of recurrence

This Morning: Dr Chris explains symptoms of shingles

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Shingles is an infection of a nerve and the skin surrounding it, causing a tingling or painful feeling and a headache or feeling generally unwell before a rash appears. In 2013, there were about 50,000 cases of shingles in people above 70 in England and Wales every year, and about 50 of these cases resulted in death. Shingles rashes normally get better over four weeks, but will that be the end of it? Can you get shingles more than once?

Shingles is a viral infection which causes a painful rash anywhere on your body, but most likely it will appear as a single stripe of blisters on your torso.

The itchy rash is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, the varicella virus.

After you’ve had chickenpox, the virus stays inactive in nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain and may reactivate years later as shingles.

Can you get shingles more than once?

You can get shingles more than once, but this is very rare.

According to WebMD, experts don’t know how many people get shingles more than once, but it comes back more often in people with weakened immune systems.

If your immune system is healthy, your chances of having shingles again in the first several years is lower than it is for people who have never had shingles.

Your chances of a second bout go up over time, but one study suggests within seven years the odds of getting shingles again are about five percent.

The painful rash normally lasts seven to 10 days but takes two to four weeks to fully heal.

Shingles isn’t passed on from person to person and you can’t catch shingles from someone who has chickenpox – shingles are reactivated years after having chickenpox.

However, direct contact with shingles blisters can infect someone who hasn’t had chickenpox and this can cause them to develop chickenpox.

The one way to reduce the likelihood of recurrence

While shingles isn’t life-threatening, it can be very painful and you wouldn’t want to experience it.

In September 2013 the UK introduced a shingles vaccine, which is offered to people when they turn 70.

Shingles can’t always be prevented but the vaccine reduces your risk of developing it.

About 50,000 people over the age of 70 were affected by shingles on average every year before the vaccine was introduced, but the programme is expected to prevent nearly 40 percent of these cases.

If you do develop shingles despite having the jab, the illness may be milder and last for a shorter time than it would if you hadn’t had the vaccine.

You’re more likely to get shingles again if you’re a woman, you were 50 or older when you had shingles the first time, your immune system is weak (e.g. from leukaemia, lymphoma or HIV), or you had severe pain from shingles that lasted more than 30 days (post-herpetic neuralgia).

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