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 is a viral infection that causes red, blister-like bumps on the skin. The same virus that causes chickenpox, varicella zoster virus (VZV), also causes shingles and 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 rare, you can get chickenpox more than once. Since VZV causes chickenpox and shingles, it makes sense that you can get shingles more than once, too.

Shingles Signs and Symptoms

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," David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Santa Monica Family Physicians, told Health. "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."

Other common signs and symptoms of shingles include:

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

If you 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. The scaps disappear in as many as four weeks.

In some cases, the shingles rash can occur on one side of the face. If that happens, consult a healthcare provider right away. That type of rash can cause vision loss.

Can You Get Shingles More Than Once?

Unfortunately, you can get shingles more than once.

In fact, of everyone who has shingles, people with weak immune systems taking medications that suppress their immune systems are more likely to have multiple shingles cases than others. Also, the longer you experience severe pain after shingles (called postherpetic neuralgia), the higher your chances of a shingles recurrence.

If shingles returns, the rash may reoccur on the other 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, a research associate specializing in environmental health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Health.

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

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

  • 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 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. However, it’s uncommon to get shingles more than once.

How To Prevent Shingles

Getting the shingles vaccine protects you from developing the illness and from having a shingles recurrence.

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

“[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, anyone who's had shingles should receive the vaccine, urged Dr. Cutler. A 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 to have shingles more than once, the Shingrix vaccine can prevent those itchy, painful red blisters. Especially if you are immunocompromised or older than 50, consult a healthcare provider about the Shingrix vaccine to protect you. 

Shingles can lead to complications in some people. One of the most common complications is postherpetic neuralgia, long-term nerve damage.

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  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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