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Lisa asked...

I recently had shingles.

Tags: immunisation

3 weeks ago I had shingles for the 2nd time in 18 years, my Dr said my immune system must be low, I had antibiotics for a week, would it be possible to get it again?

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The answer

Shingles is caused by infection with the same virus that causes chicken pox. Once you’ve had chicken pox, the virus lies dormant in the nerve roots next to your spine. At any stage later in life – often decades later – the virus can be ‘reactivated’, causing the burning pain and band of painful blisters and scabs on one side of your body. That means you don’t actually ‘catch’ shingles – but anyone who’s had chicken pox is at risk of getting it. You were probably treated not with an antibiotic but with an anti-virus medicine. Antibiotics don’t work for any kind if virus infection. We can’t ‘cure’ virus infections with tablets in the way that we can get rid of bacterial infections, largely because viruses live inside our own body’s cells. However, anti-virus medicine can shorten the course of your illness, may make your symptoms less severe and cuts down the risk of you getting long term complications like post-herpetic neuralgia, a severe pain along the nerve affected by shingles. There are all sorts of theories about why people get shingles – we suspect it gets more common as you get older because your immune system is less efficient. You are more likely to get shingles if your immune system is suppressed (for instance by cancer or cancer treatments). However, if you’re otherwise well, it’s highly unlikely that there is anything seriously wrong with your immune system and it was probably just bad luck. Most people don’t get shingles twice but it does happen.  Having shingles twice doesn’t make you more likely to get it again, so your risk is low but it’s not impossible.

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