Shingles Returns More Often Than Thought

But study still finds recurrence rate low, slightly more than 5%

TUESDAY, Feb. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Repeat cases of shingles may be more common than suspected, contends a new study that challenges the long-held belief that people only get shingles once in a lifetime.

People with shingles develop a specific type of rash and sometimes severe pain. The condition is caused by the herpes zoster virus.

Researchers at the Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., analyzed the medical records of nearly 1,700 patients, aged 22 and older, diagnosed with shingles between 1996 and 2001.

Over an average follow-up of eight years, the shingles recurrence rate was more than 5 percent. That's the same percentage of first cases that would be expected in the same age group in the general population, according to the authors of the study published in the February issue of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

"And that's only within eight years. As you continue to follow these patients throughout their lives, it's likely the recurrence rate will be much higher than 5 percent," lead author Dr. Barbara Yawn, director of research at Olmsted, said in a journal news release.

It's known that women are more likely than men to get shingles, and this study found that they are also more likely to experience a recurrence of the disease.

The researchers also concluded that pain during the initial episode of shingles appears to be the most important predictor of recurrence. Patients with pain that lasted more than 30 days after the initial onset of shingles were more likely to experience a recurrence, especially in the first three to four years after the initial episode.

Older age did not appear to be a risk factor for recurrence.

The herpes zoster vaccine, which reduces first-time occurrences of shingles by 50 percent, may help prevent a second episode in patients, the researchers suggested.

"Until now, we haven't been able to tell patients their risks of getting zoster a second time. This study offers another piece of information for patients and doctors who are discussing the likelihood of recurrence and considering a prevention strategy," Yawn said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about shingles.

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