HealthDay News — Immunocompetent older people who have had shingles recently have a relatively low short-term risk for developing the skin condition again, regardless of vaccination status, study data show.

These results indicate that there is no urgent need for these individuals to be vaccinated to prevent recurrent shingles epidsodes, Hung Fu Tseng, PhD, MPH, from Southern California Kaiser Permanente and colleagues reported in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

They compared the incidence of recurrent herpes zoster between 1,036 vaccinated individuals and 5,180 unvaccinated matched cohorts with a recent episode of herpes zoster. All patients were immunocompetent and aged ≥60 years.

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Fewer than 30 cases of recurrent shingles occurred during the two-year follow-up period, and recurrence rates were similar among both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals — 19 vs. 24 per 10,000 people — the researchers found.

Among adults younger than 70 years, the incidence of recurrent herpes zoster was 0.99 per 1,000 person-years in the vaccinated cohort and 2.20 per 1,000 person-years in the unvaccinated cohort (adjusted hazard ratio= 0.39; 95% CI: 0.05-4.45).

The CDC currently recommends the shingles vaccine for adults aged 60 and older, including individuals who have already had shingles, because herpes zoster immunity wanes with age. But the FDA contends that is unlikely that individuals who have had a recent episode will experience a recurrence, because exposure to the virus boosts immunity. To-date no clinical trials have been conducted to determine whether the vaccine can prevent repeat episodes of shingles.

“We now have empirical data that show the risk of recurrence is low among an elderly population who did not have compromised immune systems, regardless of their vaccination status,” Fu Tseng said in a press release.

Additional, larger studies are still needed to confirm the findings, according to the researchers.

Fu Tseng H et al. J Infect Dis. 2012; doi:10.1093/infdis/jis334.