New evidence suggests that shingles, which can occur in individuals who previously had chicken pox, may be associated with an increased risk of stroke in the weeks to months following a shingles episode.
Shingles, or herpes zoster, which is the result of the same virus (varicella zoster virus) that causes chicken pox, affects 1 million Americans every year. Before a vaccine for shingles became available, one-third of Americans were affected with shingles in their lifetime. Shingles occurs when the dormant virus reactivates in someone who had chicken pox in the past.
The infection targets the nervous system, and can have both short-term and long-term health effects, including the hallmark painful shingles rash that may be followed by persistent nerve-related pain that can last for months to years after the rash resolves. Now, new evidence suggests that the shingles may also be associated with an increased risk of stroke in the weeks after the rash emerges.
In a study released yesterday in Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analyzed medical records from millions of general practice patients in the United Kingdom from 1987 to 2012 and identified more than 6500 individuals with both shingles and arterial stroke during this period. When they looked at the time points at which strokes occurred in relation to the shingles episodes, they found that the rate of stroke was significantly higher during the first 6 months following a shingles episode compared with before a shingles episode (approximately 63% higher during the first month, 42% higher during the second and third months, and 23% higher during the fourth through sixth months.)