Many people believe that shingles are the adult version of chickenpox, but the truth is a little more complex. For example, you can only get chickenpox once in your life. Can you get shingles more than once? The answer might surprise you.
Can You Get Shingles More Than Once?
Since shingles and chickenpox are caused by the same virus, you might think they play by the same rules. Unfortunately, shingles plays by rules of its own, and those rules make it worse than chickenpox in almost every way. So can you get shingles more than once? Sadly, yes you can.
What Is the Difference Between Shingles and Chickenpox?
Chickenpox and shingles are both reactions caused by your immune system encountering the varicella zoster virus. If a person has never had chickenpox or hasn’t been vaccinated for it, they are vulnerable to developing chickenpox as a result. Contact with someone who has shingles can also cause chickenpox, but only if the person exposed is being exposed for the first time.
Once the body has recovered from chickenpox, the virus will lay dormant in your bloodstream for the rest of your life. If the virus “flares up” again, shingles will be the result. This virus can flare up due to anything that significantly weakens the immune system. So while chickenpox is a one-and-done reaction to encountering a virus for the first time, shingles can reoccur. Individuals in their sixties and older are at particular risk for shingles flare-ups, as well as anyone with a weakened immune system.
It is also important to note that while shingles can cause chickenpox in individuals who have not had it yet, the condition itself is not contagious. Someone with shingles cannot give you shingles from close contact. Shingles is only caused by a flare-up of an existing virus.
How Do I Know If I Am Experiencing a Shingles Flare-Up?
Shingles will always present in the same way: a rash that forms a stripe of blisters, usually on the torso. If you think you are experiencing shingles again, you should seek treatment immediately. For one thing, it will help limit the discomfort of the flare up and lead to a quicker recovery. More importantly, untreated shingles can have unexpected long-term consequences, including permanent nerve damage. Seniors also have an increased risk of complications from shingles. Therefore, shingles flare-ups in seniors should always be treated as urgent, even if they have happened before.
What Can I Do to Lower My Risk of Shingles?
Unfortunately, there is no way to completely eliminate the threat of shingles. However, there are two things that seniors can do to lower their risk:
- Take care of your immune system. Shingles flare-ups are caused by a weakened immune system, so a strong immune system will help you avoid that. Focus on nutrition, get regular exercise, and be sure to get your flu vaccine and other recommended vaccines as well.
- Ask your doctor about a shingles vaccine. There are two living and one non-living shingles vaccine currently available for seniors. These treatments are not appropriate for all seniors, especially those with ongoing immune deficiency issues. However, if you are able to take them, they will seriously lower your risk of a shingles flare-up. Ask your doctor about your medical history to see if these are an option.
Can you get shingles more than once? It’s rare, but it happens. Don’t assume you’re off the hook for shingles just because you’ve had them once. Take care of your immune system, and talk to your doctor about shingles treatment and prevention.
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