Last reviewed by Editorial Team on August 13th, 2018.
Shingles is a viral infection, which is caused by the varicella virus. At the first infestation, the patient will develop chickenpox. The virus will remain latent in the body, being activated in the situation that the immune system becomes weakened (for example, if the patient suffers from another medical condition). The re-activation of the virus leads to the appearance of shingles or herpes zoster, as this condition is also known as. In rare situations, the virus can become re-activated more than once, causing the patient to experience similar symptoms.
How often does Shingles come back?
Even though it is known that this condition can return more than once, no one can say for certain how often this will actually happen. The one thing that is certain is that it will re-appear more often in the situation that the immune system is weakened (favors the re-activation of the virus).
A study performed on shingles patients, who were over 60 years of age, demonstrated that the risk of developing this condition again was under 1% (over a three-year period). Another study, performed on younger patients, demonstrated that the risk is higher over a larger period of time (6% over a seven-year period).
Is Shingles Contagious?
It is important to understand that shingles represents a re-activation of the varicella virus that has remained latent in one’s body. This means that the condition on its own is not contagious. You cannot pass shingles to someone else, as you cannot catch it from another person. However, in the situation that blisters form on the surface of the skin, it might be a good idea to refrain from touching that person. It is possible that these blisters contain live strains of the varicella virus. If you haven’t suffered from chickenpox, you might develop such a condition, by coming in contact with the said blisters (if they break).
Who is at risk of getting shingles more than once?
There are a number of risk factors that can cause a person to experience shingles more than once in their life.
One of these major risk factors is post-herpetic neuralgia. This refers to the severe pain associated with the appearance of shingles, commonly following the pathway of a nerve (such as the trigeminal or facial nerve, for example). It is characteristic for this type of pain to last for more than 30 days, reducing the functionality of the patient. So, if you have had to deal with such problems, you are also at risk for developing shingles more than once.
According to the specialists in the field, it seems that women present a higher risk for getting shingles more than once (in comparison with men).
Age is considered a risk factor in the appearance of new shingles episodes; the risk for such problems is considered to be higher in those who have developed their first shingles episode at a later stage in life (50 or older).
The risk of recurring shingles episodes is definitely higher in those who suffer from a weakened immune system. Among the conditions that might suppress the activity of the immune system, there are: leukemia, HIV or lymphoma. It is possible that the proper functionality of the immune system is also affected by the usage of certain medication (side-effect).
Symptoms of Recurrent Shingles
Recurring shingles episodes’ present similar symptoms with the ones of the initial episode. Patients present a characteristic rash on their skin, in the form of a band, commonly following the pathway of a nerve. It is possible that blisters form on the respective rash band, containing live strains of the varicella virus. In the situation that these blisters break, the patient might be contagious.
As the rash is present on the pathway of a nerve, it can cause intense pain for the patient. Some patients experience genuinely intense pain, their functionality being reduced to a minimum level. Before the actual appearance of the rash, the patient might already begin to experience the pain. It is also possible that both itchiness and a tingling sensation might be present before the rash.
Once the rash appears at the level of the skin, the patient will begin to experience other symptoms as well. Headaches, moderate fever and chills might appear to complete the clinical picture. It is possible that some patients also suffer from an upset stomach, depending how severe the re-activation of the virus actually is.
The treatment of recurring shingles is similar to the one recommended for the initial episode. Below, you will find the treatment options indicated for such cases.
The antiviral medication can eliminate or reduce the intensity of the symptoms experienced by the patients, especially in the situation that one suffers from post-herpetic neuropathic pain. Among the most recommended choices, there are: acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir. Depending on how serious the recurring episode is, the antiviral treatment might be administered orally or topically (or both).
As the itchiness can trouble the patient quite a lot, there are a number of natural remedies that are recommended for such problems. Among the most comforting solutions, there are: topical lotion (calamine has a soothing effect on the skin), wet & cold compress and oatmeal bath.
This is actually a medication recommended for those who suffer from epilepsy and have seizures. However, it can be extremely effective when it comes to recurring shingles, accompanied by intense pain.
As this can be quite an invalidating condition, it is important that the patient is protected against depression. Antidepressants might help one to better go through the shingles episodes, without feeling anxious or depressed.
If you have noticed any of the above-mentioned symptoms, it is important not to delay going to the doctor. The sooner the treatment is started, the better your body will actually respond to it. Do not take any medication without talking to the doctor about it, as you might re-activate the varicella virus and suffer from the same problems all over again.