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10-02-2011 | Article

Shingles recurrence more common than previously thought


Free abstract

MedWire News: Research has called into question the belief that patients are only likely to suffer from shingles once in their lifetime.

It has always been thought that a single episode of shingles protects people against a recurrence of the skin condition, known clinically as the herpes zoster virus, but research now suggests that recurrences of shingles are significantly more common than previously thought.

"It's been thought that recurrences were limited to people with compromised immune systems, for instance from chemotherapy or blood-borne malignancies, but this is not the case," says lead researcher Barbara Yawn, from Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester, USA.

Together with colleagues, she found that recurrence is also common in people with healthy immune systems. Indeed, it would seem that people are as likely to have a recurrence of the disorder as they are to have a first episode.

The team examined the medical records of more than 1600 people, aged 22 years or older, who had experienced an episode of shingles. They monitored these people for up to 12 years to see if they suffered another episode.

The overall recurrence rate was 5%, which the researchers say is the same rate as would be expected for a first case of shingles. Some patients even experienced as many as three recurrences.

The team notes in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings that the recurrence rate may have been even higher if the patients had been monitored for more than 12 years.

Women, who are more likely to experience shingles than men, were also more likely to have recurrences. But the strongest predictor of recurrence was the duration of pain patients felt during the initial episode of shingles. The researchers report that patients who experienced pain for more than 30 days after the initial episode of shingles were more likely to experience a recurrence, particularly in the first 3 to 4 years after the episode, than patients experiencing pain for a shorter length of time.

Yawn and colleagues say that the recurrence of shingles is "sufficiently common to warrant investigation of vaccine prevention in this group."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Current Medicine Group, a trading division of Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Lucy Piper