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Study shows shingles is a recurrent illness

If you've ever healed from a case of shingles, you might be in for a surprise. It can come back — more than once.

In a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Aging, researchers used data from the Rochester Epidemiology Project to study confirmed cases of shingles in Olmsted County residents.

Data from 1996 to 2001 were reviewed with patient permission, said Dr. Barbara Yawn, Olmsted Medical Center director of research.

"They get shingles, and then they can get it again. And the rate of getting it again is comparable to getting it in the first place," said Yawn, primary author of an article appearing in the current issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Yawn, co-director of the Rochester Epidemiology Project, said that she had figured from treating patients that shingles could recur, but, "I had no idea of exactly what rate it did re-occur." The concept of recurrence has been controversial and many believed it recurred only in people with compromised immune systems, Yawn said.


Previous research shows that about 5 percent of people, during the course of eight years, will develop shingles if they're 40 or older. About 5 percent of people who've had shingles will get it again.

Yawn said a few of the recurrences happened in people with compromised immune systems, "but most of the recurrences were in people whose immune system was not affected."

Immunization has been shown to prevent half of first-time cases of shingles, said Yawn. On average, getting immunized costs about $300. The vaccine is safe, and it makes sense to get a vaccination to prevent recurrence, she said. For proof that vaccination works against recurrence, more research is needed.

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