Does COVID-19 Increase Shingles Risk In People Over 50?

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COVID-19 has been linked to several side effects and conditions as scientists continue to examine SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the respiratory disease that started wreaking havoc in 2020. New research has found that the infection may increase the risk of developing shingles in a certain group of people. 

A study published in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases reported how contracting the virus can increase the chances of developing another condition, called shingles, in people over 50 years of age. 

What Is Shingles?

Also known as herpes zoster, shingles is a condition characterized by a painful rash. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same pathogen responsible for chickenpox. The virus enters a dormant state in the body after a person recovers from chickenpox. When the virus gets reactivated years later, the condition it causes is shingles, as per the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).

In the United States, about 1 in 3 people develop shingles. Each year, around 1 million people get shingles, based on data collected by CDC. The risk of shingles increases with age; hence, the condition is more common in older people. But children can get shingles as well. 

Shingles is technically not a life-threatening condition. However, it can be painful and uncomfortable. The most common symptoms include pain, sensitivity to touch, red rashes, fluid-filled blisters, and itch. Some people may also experience fever, headache, sensitivity to light, and fatigue. Vaccines help reduce the risk of developing shingles. Early treatment also helps shorten its duration, according to Mayo Clinic

COVID-19 And Shingles Risk

The researchers analyzed data from around 2 million people 50 and up for the new study. They compared the rate of shingles in those who contracted COVID-19 (a total of 394,677 individuals) and those who never got infected with SARS-CoV-2 (1,577,346 individuals). 

After analyzing their collected data, the team found that people who battled COVID-19 had a 15% higher risk of developing shingles than those who didn’t. The risk was notably higher at 21% in COVID-19 survivors who got hospitalized during their bout with the virus. 

“We found that COVID-19 diagnosis in ≥50-year-olds was associated with a significantly increased risk of developing [shingles], highlighting the relevance of maintaining [herpes zoster] vaccination,” the team wrote in their study’s conclusion. 

Thomas Russo, MD, a professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, who was not involved in the study, told Prevention that the best thing to do is get both the COVID-19 vaccine and the herpes zoster vaccine when eligible. 

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