Shingles is a condition marked by a very painful localized rash that may take several weeks to resolve. It occurs mainly in older individuals who had chicken pox in their youth. According to a study published online December 28 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, asthma is an unrecognized risk factor for herpes zoster (shingles) in adults. They advise that adults over 50 who have asthma should be vaccinated against shingles.
Researchers studied the medical records of over 1,100 adults; 371 diagnosed with shingles and 742 in a control group. Of those with shingles, 23% had asthma. Of those without shingles, 15% had asthma. This upheld the findings of an earlier study in which asthma was found to be an independent risk factor for zoster in asthmatic children. Wrote the study’s authors, “The effect of asthma on risk of infection might go beyond the airways.”
Impairment in immune function in the skin and airways has been well-documented in patients with asthma, and while not definitively proven, it’s thought that asthma may increase the risk for varicella zoster virus reactivation because it suppresses adaptive immunity.
There is further study to be done, however, as there is not a clear biological basis for why asthma would affect shingles risks. It’s possible that corticosteroid use might be a factor; further testing is needed to rule this out.
Meanwhile, nearly one third of adults will have been affected by shingles by the time they reach 80 years of age; one million people suffer from this very painful disease in the United States every year. Ask your doctor if you should be vaccinated against shingles.