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Long-term link between shingles and stroke

The connection has been made by the American Academy of Neurology. Here researchers, from a review of medical data, connected the virus causing the diseases of chicken pox and shingles to problems with the disease arteritis. Medical data indicated the virus to be found in 74 percent of the biopsies relating to the condition giant cell arteritis; whereas it was associated with just 8 percent of normal skin biopsies.

Shingles is caused by the virus herpes zoster. It describes a disease characterized by a painful skin rash with blisters. Symptoms of the condition, which affects 20-30 percent of adults, include a burning rash, together with headache, fever, and malaise.

Giant-cell arteritis is an inflammatory disease of blood vessels, commonly occurring in the large and medium arteries of the head. Symptoms include aching and soreness in and around the temples; jaw muscle pain while eating; and vision loss. The condition has been associated with strokes.

The new study connects increased rates of acute cardiovascular events such as ischemic stroke. In terms of epidemiology, it is established that many people who have had chicken pox in their childhood can contract shingles. Most often this is once a person reaches their 60s. It is unknown why the virus, which has remained dormant for decades, re-activates.

For the sample population, researchers drew on 42,954 Medicare beneficiaries in the U.S. This group had received a herpes zoster diagnosis (the virus responsible) and an ischemic stroke. In addition, these considered 24,237 beneficiaries who had myocardial infarction as well as a herpes zoster diagnosis during a five-year period.

It was found among those diagnosed with herpes zoster, this group had a 2.4-times higher chance of an ischemic stroke occurring and a 1.7 times higher chance of myocardial infarction occurring during the first week after the herpes zoster virus causes symptoms of shingles. The risk then decreased over the six months following the herpes zoster diagnosis.

The research is published in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine, in a paper titled “Acute Cardiovascular Events after Herpes Zoster: A Self-Controlled Case Series Analysis in Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Older Residents of the United States.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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