VARICELLA zoster, the virus responsible for causing chicken pox and shingles, could increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke according to new research conducted by a team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
The team conducted a prospective, longitudinal study to evaluate whether having an episode of shingles was associated with a future risk of stroke or CHD. The study included over 200,000 individuals, comprised of 31,000 males and 173,000 females from the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II, and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Candidates included had no previous history of CHD or stroke, received a questionnaire every 2 years, and were followed-up for up to 16 years.
From questionnaire results collected throughout the 16-year follow-up period, the authors collated data regarding shingles, stroke, and CHD diagnoses. CHD was defined as non-fatal or fatal myocardial infarction or undergoing coronary revascularisation procedures, and diagnoses were confirmed by reviewing medical records.
The team found that long-term risk of cardiovascular disease (CHD or stroke) was 30% higher in those with a previous episode of shingles, compared to those with no history of shingles. Additionally, it was noted that this elevated risk could persist for ≥12 years following the shingles episode.
Lead author Sharon Curhan, Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, stated: “Our findings suggest there are long-term implications of shingles and highlight the importance of public health efforts for prevention.” Curhan further commented: “Shingles vaccination could provide a valuable opportunity to reduce the burden of shingles and reduce the risk of subsequent cardiovascular complications.”
These findings are important given the estimates that one in three individuals will go on to develop shingles later in life. Understanding the long-term risks associated with lifelong viral infections, such as varicella zoster infection, is important to understanding how to prevent future complications.
However, a limitation to consider is that this study reviewed patient data from before the shingles vaccine became widely available, and therefore does not assess whether shingles vaccination status impacts the association between shingles and the risk of future CHD and stroke. Looking toward the future, Curhan discussed how the team would like to perform studies to evaluate whether shingles vaccination does have an effect on these risks.