Shingles is a viral infection caused by varicella-zoster. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once a person experiences chickenpox as a child, varicella-zoster remains dormant in the nerve cells. For some people, the virus stays dormant forever. In others, the virus reactivates years or even decades later, emerging as shingles.
Shingles and chickenpox are different illnesses, but they share some similarities. Both diseases cause an itchy rash and blisters on the skin. Also, both diseases exhibit temporary symptoms. In most cases, the blisters tend to dry up, scab over and fall off within a week or two.
According to the CDC, about one-third of Americans who have been infected with chickenpox will experience shingles in their lives. Usually, catching chickenpox once is enough to develop immunity. However, there have been rare cases of people getting chickenpox more than once. Therefore, many people naturally wonder if the same goes for shingles infections, too.
How Many Times Can Shingles Affect a Person?
Can you get shingles more than once? Unfortunately, it’s possible to get the disease more than once. However, a 2011 study suggests a recurrence rate of 12%, which means shingles recurrence is relatively uncommon. With second infections being so rare, it’s not understood why or how they occur. The cause hasn’t been determined yet, but science has gone as far as identifying some factors that may increase the likelihood of getting shingles more than once.
Contributing Factors for Recurrence
- Severe symptoms during first time with shingles
- Symptoms that last more than 30 days during first time
- Weakened immune system
- Being female
- Advanced age during first time (over 50 years)
Symptoms of Shingles
Symptoms can vary in number and severity between individuals. Most people who have been diagnosed with shingles should experience some of the following:
- Pain or tingling in skin
- Red rash
- “Girdle” of fluid-filled blisters around torso
How to Manage Symptoms
Most people will be back to normal once the disease has run its course, which takes a week or two. Unfortunately, they still have to endure the unpleasant symptoms of shingles until the infection eventually clears. Just like with chickenpox, it’s important to resist scratching and picking at the blisters and sores until they heal. Anyone who’s experienced either disease knows just how frustrating this is! Luckily, there are several tried-and-true methods for managing these symptoms.
Vaccination with a recombinant zoster vaccine is the only way to prevent shingles from occurring in the first place. Health experts recommend the vaccine for adults over 50 and older. For unvaccinated individuals who do contract shingles, a doctor can prescribe antiviral medications to help combat the virus and shorten the duration of its symptoms.
The painful, oozing blisters caused by this disease can be soothed with a mild, unscented lotion, calamine lotion, or a specialized ointment for shingles. Wet, cool compresses can also soothe inflammation and pain.
Regular baths can help speed up the healing process by cleansing open sores and soothing inflammation. Many people also swear by adding oatmeal or Epsom salt to their bathwater to ease itchiness and pain. Formulated treatments using all-natural ingredients are especially recommended because they facilitate healing and relieve pain at the same time.
What to Do if You Have Shingles
People experiencing the above symptoms should first contact their doctor, especially if they have had chickenpox before. If the doctor confirms the illness as a shingles infection, the individual should self-isolate until their symptoms wane. While shingles itself isn’t contagious, people who have not had chickenpox before can catch it from a person who has shingles.