Shingles come back more often than previously known

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Shingles (photo Wikipedia)

Shingles is not a once in a lifetime occurrence as previously thought.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic say shingles, caused by the herpes zoster virus, recurs more than doctors suspected.

The scientists say they were surprised by the findings. The study conducted by Barbara Yawn, M.D., director of research at Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester, found shingles recurred more than 5 percent of the time in patients who had been treated once. The rate of recurrence was the same as a first case of the painful condition.

The study also showed shingles came back in patients with healthy immune systems. Dr. Yawn said, “It’s been thought that recurrences were limited to people with compromised immune systems, for instance from chemotherapy or bloodborne malignancies, but this is not the case. Recurrence was prevalent in the immunocompetent population. We were very surprised by the results.”


The findings were taken from medical records of 1,700 patients over age 22 who had a documented episode of shingles, between 1996 to 2001 who were followed for an average of 8 years.

Dr. Yawn notes. “As you continue to follow these patients throughout their lives, it’s likely the recurrence rate will be much higher than 5 percent.” Some patients had as many as three cases of shingles in 8 years. Women were more likely to have a recurrence of the disease that can cause an intensely painful rash.

Another surprise was say the researchers was that age wasn't a factor for who would have a second round of a herpes zoster. Instead, they found high levels of pain that lasted more than 30 days with a first episode was most likely to be associated with second, or even third, especially in the first three to four years.

The researchers say the finding provides physician's with information they can give to patients. Shingles vaccine that reduces the chances of a first episode by 50 percent might prevent a second episode, suggested by the study.

Mayo Clinic