Can You Get Shingles More Than Once?

Plus, why it's important to get the shingles vaccine—even if you've had shingles before.

Shingles—a disease that triggers red, blister-like bumps caused by the same virus that cases chickenpox—is tough enough to endure once in your life. Is it possible to endure the symptoms of pain, itching, and tingling of the skin, more than once? Unfortunately, yes.

Although it is rare, it is possible to get chickenpox more than once. And chickenpox is caused by the same virus that causes shingles. So it makes sense that you can get shingles more than once too. Here's what you should know.

Signs and Symptoms of Shingles

The hallmark symptom of shingles is the rash that typically occurs in a single stripe, or band, around the left or right side of the body. “The shingles rash looks like red, blister-like bumps,” explained David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Santa Monica Family Physicians in Santa Monica, California. “People describe them as looking like teardrops on a rose petal, and these appear on the path of the nerve that the virus is traveling on.”

Some other common signs and symptoms of shingles include:

  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Burning, shooting pain
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache

If you contract the varicella-zoster virus and develop shingles, you may notice that your skin becomes sensitive, itchy, and painful several days before the rash appears. After blistering, the red bumps will eventually form scabs, which disappear in as many as four weeks.

Sometimes, the shingles rash can occur on one side of the face. If this happens, it is important to seek medical care since this type of rash can cause vision loss.

Can You Get Shingles More Than Once?

Unfortunately, it is possible to get shingles twice (or more).

In fact, of everyone who experiences shingles, people who have weakened immune systems or are on medications that suppress their immune systems are more likely to contract the virus than others. Additionally, the longer you experience severe pain after shingles (called postherpetic neuralgia), the higher your chances of a shingles recurrence.

Interestingly, if shingles come back, they may recur on another side of your body. Suppose the rash first appeared on the left side of your torso, for example. In that case, it’s likely to come back on the right side, Nidhi Ghildayal, PhD, research associate specializing in environmental health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, told Health.

“The reason for this is that once you’ve had chickenpox, the virus remains alive in your nerves,” explained Dr. Ghildayal. “When the virus reactivates, the infected nerves become inflamed.”

The skin those nerves reach also becomes inflamed, noted Dr. Ghildayal. Those rashes are most likely on the torso or chest but can also occur on your:

  • Arms
  • Head
  • Face
  • Eyes
  • Ears

A rash on one of those places might be the first sign that you should seek help from a healthcare provider.

The good news: It’s uncommon to get shingles again. But the reason shingles can recur is apparent. “After the episode, the virus becomes inactive inside your nerves but is able to reactivate in the future,” explained Dr. Ghildayal.

Prevention

Getting the shingles vaccine protects you against shingles—and from a shingles recurrence.

Zostavax, approved in 2006, was once the only shingles vaccine available to older individuals. However, as of November 2020, Zostavax is no longer available in the United States. But another vaccine, Shingrix, is available. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Shingrix for adults aged 50 years and older in 2017, and the vaccine is over 90% effective.

“[Shingrix] is a very important one for all of us to consider,” said Dr. Cutler. “In my practice, we routinely recommend this vaccine to everyone over 50 [years].”

With the possibility that shingles can recur, Dr. Cutler urged anyone who has had shingles to still receive the vaccine. Your healthcare provider will administer Shingrix in two doses, scheduled two to six months apart. 

“It’s important to note that you should also get Shingrix even if you had Zostavax, the older shingles vaccine,” added Dr. Cutler. “You should also get it if you don’t know if you had chickenpox as a child.”

A Quick Review

Even though it's possible that you can experience shingles more than once, you can receive the Shingrix vaccine to prevent experiencing those itchy, painful red blisters.

Especially if you are immunocompromised or over the age of 50 years, consult your healthcare provider about administering the Shingrix vaccine to protect you against shingles, which can lead to complications in some people. One of the most common complications is postherpetic neuralgia, which is long-term nerve damage.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute on Aging. Shingles.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chickenpox (varicella) transmission.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (herpes zoster) signs and symptoms.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (herpes zoster) transmission.

  5. Shingles: Overview. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2019.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What everyone should know about Zostavax.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles vaccination.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Complications of shingles.

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