If you are approaching the age of 60, you’ve probably heard that you should get a shot to prevent shingles, also called herpes zoster. Having a shingles rash or postherpetic nerve pain is definitely not something you want, but a new study has brought to light another reason to get that shot.
British researchers have found that in the first six months after contracting herpes zoster you may have a higher risk of having a stroke.
Epidemiologists at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine investigated 6,584 individuals who developed both shingles and strokes between the years 1987 and 2012. Most of these subjects were over the age of 70, which is no surprise since the incidence of shingles increases with age.
The researchers found that patients, in the first four weeks after being diagnosed with shingles, had a 63 percent higher risk of having a stroke. During the weeks 5-12, their risk of stroke was 43 percent higher. In weeks 13-26, the risk fell to 23 percent.
“There’s no increased risk after that,” said the lead author Sinead Langan, a senior lecturer in epidemiology to the New York Times. It is thought that the dramatic rise in risk of stroke may be due to inflammation from the infection or damage to blood vessels.
The incidence of stroke was also higher in those who had shingles in a nerve that affects their eyes. Herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO) is what this type of shingles is called. However the numbers in this group were too small to speculate as to the reasons why.
In addition, those who were giving antivirals for their herpes infection had a reduced risk of stroke but only about half the patients received them.
The shingles vaccine cannot prevent someone from getting shingles but is thought to reduce the risk by about 50 percent and to reduce the risk of getting a dreaded postherpetic neuralgia. Postherpetic nerve pain can last weeks to months and even years.
According to the CDC, only about 20 percent of adults over the age of 60 received the vaccine in 2012. About 1 out of 3 people in the United States will develop shingles during their lifetime. Nearly 1 million Americans experience the condition each year.
Perhaps with this new finding of possible stroke prevention, doctors can convince more of their elderly patients to getting the shingles shot.
This study was published April 2, 2014 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
When Shingles Is Just the Beginning By PAULA SPAN. New York Times.com. Retrieved May 27, 2014.
Langana, Sinéad M. et al. Risk of Stroke Following Herpes Zoster: A Self-Controlled Case-Series Study. Clin Infect Dis. (2014) 58 (11): 1497-1503. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciu098.
Protect Yourself against Shingles: Get Vaccinated. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 27, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/features/shingles/
Noninfluenza Vaccination Coverage Among Adults — United States, 2012. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 27, 2014.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues.
Edited by Jody Smith