Shingles is caused by the same virus responsible for chickenpox – it is the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The virus does not go away after you get chickenpox the first time.
After getting chickenpox, the virus lies dormant in the sensory nervous system – and can reboot in later years as shingles or herpes zoster. In some patients, shingles can be rebooted more than once – and this is known as recurring shingles.
In the past, most people assumed shingles was a one-time event. Though rare, we now know that shingles can strike a second or third time. In this event, the condition would be called “recurring shingles”.
Individuals who have a weakened immune system are generally more susceptible to getting recurring shingles. For a healthy person, however, the odds of getting recurrent shingles is lower – especially in the first seven years after the first episode. After this timeframe, the probability goes up by around 5%.
Doctors evaluate several variables to determine at-risk patients.
1. Women – this demographic is more at risk of recurring shingles.
2. Seniors with shingles – Patients who had their first episode of shingles after the age of 50 are more inclined to get recurring shingles compared to younger patients.
3. Immune-suppressed patients – patients who are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases are additionally more at risk. Some examples include patients who have been diagnosed with HIV or leukemia.
4. Medications – if you currently take medications that suppress the immune system, recurring shingles may be on the cards for you – if you do not seek preventative treatments available.
5. Severe first-time shingles patients – Medical researchers conclude that first-time shingles patients who had severe symptoms lasting more than a month are more inclined to get shingles a second time.
One of the main telltale signs of shingles (both first time and recurring episodes) is a band of painful and blistering rashes.
When the virus is reactivated, shingles patients normally notice a rash. In subsequent cases, patients may experience rashes or pain in another region of the body that wasn’t previously affected.
For example, if the first bout of shingles plagued the upper left torso, in the second round, it will most likely affect the other side – or other areas of the body. Every patient, however, is different.
Going through shingles is a painful ordeal and most patients would agree that they’d never want to experience it another time. Fortunately, there are preventative treatments available with a high success rating.
The shingles vaccine, Shingrix, is the gold standard for preventing first-time and recurring shingles. For the most part, it has replaced the once favored Zostavax due to its efficiency.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a double dose of this vaccine – with each one spread out between 8-24 weeks. The vaccine is available at many local pharmacies as well in doctors’ offices. It is generally administered in the upper arm region.
Shingrix is also beneficial for preventing postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) – a secondary symptom and common complication of shingles.
It’s up to 90% effective at preventing first-time and recurring shingles – and PHN.
If you are older than 40 years old but don’t remember getting chickenpox, it may still be in your best interest to ask your doctor about the shingles vaccine. This is because studies indicate that approximately 99% of all citizens over the age of 40 had chickenpox at some time in their lives.
To protect the health of patients, the following precautions have been listed for the shingles vaccine, Shingrix®:
If you do get recurring shingles, visit your doctor right away. Many patients take a wait-and-see approach – and question whether medical intervention is even necessary.
1. Faster recovery – Antivirals and other prescription medicines are generally prescribed, which aid in speedier recovery and less pain and suffering for patients.
2. Lowering the risk of serious complications – In severe cases, shingles may lead to hearing and vision problems, especially when it appears in the facial region. It’s therefore important to get treated by a medical specialist as soon as you notice symptoms.
To properly treat recurring shingles, viral cultures are tested to confirm that it is indeed the herpes zoster virus – as the symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions, such as herpes simplex for example.