GlaxoSmithKline GmbH & Co. KG
– Suspicious new study: COVID-19 damages immune cells and weakens the body’s defenses – shingles is so easy
– Risk increases with age: people over 50 have a 15% increased risk of shingles after contracting COVID-19
– Are particularly at risk: The elderly after a severe course of COVID-19, women are more often affected than men
Almost 23 million people in Germany have already been infected with COVID-19 or are currently suffering from it.1 In many cases, the infection is mild and those affected recover after a short time. But what many affected people do not know: COVID-19 disease also increases the risk of other diseases. A recent assessment of US health insurance data showed that people over 50 have a 15% increased risk of getting shingles after contracting COVID-19. According to experts**, this is probably due to a weakening of the immune system: In general, the body’s defenses decrease significantly with age. COVID-19 infection likely also temporarily damages remaining immune cells and shingles may break out.2
Severe courses of COVID-19 also increase risk of shingles
Data analysis also showed that the risk of developing shingles increased by 21% in COVID-19 patients with severe courses, including hospitalization. There were also differences between the sexes and in certain age groups: women have a higher risk than men. In addition, people over 65 are at greater risk than those aged 50 to 64.2 From the second half of life, the immune system naturally weakens – even without COVID-19 disease – and infectious diseases like shingles have it easier 3 Shingles will be triggered by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that also causes chickenpox: After surviving the chickenpox infection, the virus often remains dormant in the body for decades. If the immune system is now weakened due to age, illness or stress, the virus can be reactivated as shingles. The elderly are particularly at risk and are often affected: more than 95% of people over the age of 60 already have the virus in their body.4 Shingles is one of the most common diseases in adulthood: statistically , one in three people will develop shingles in their lifetime 5.
A particularly stressful but not uncommon consequence of shingles is intense and long-lasting, sometimes irreversible nerve pain, also known as postherpetic neuralgia. Up to 30 percent of those affected suffer from this complication, which sometimes even needs to be treated in hospital.6 The nerve pain associated with shingles has many faces: it is often described as burning, stabbing, throbbing or paralyzing.
With COVID-19, also think about preventing shingles
The present study also shows that the risk of developing shingles is significantly increased four weeks to six months after corona disease.2 The STIKO (Standing Vaccination Commission) recommends shingles vaccination for people over 60 and people with underlying diseases at the age of 50. 7 The typical decrease in the incidence of infection during the summer months is an ideal time for prevention. Vaccination is also possible immediately after surviving the COVID-19 infection. According to STIKO recommendations, vaccinations should only be postponed for people with acute, severe, febrile illness. After the acute phase and the disappearance of symptoms, preventive vaccinations can be carried out.8 The risk of contracting COVID-19 is higher than ever today. A preventive vaccination can protect against shingles as a result of corona disease. Talk to your doctor about your preventive care options.
Shingles disguises itself as a skin disease, but it is actually an infectious disease caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox pathogen. More than 95% of people aged 60 and over have had chickenpox and are therefore carriers of the virus.4 One in three people will develop shingles in their lifetime.5 Even a healthy lifestyle and measures like menstruation from the AHA can’t change that. For one thing, the immune system declines with age, making reactivation more likely. On the other hand, affected people are not infected, but already have the pathogen in their body and it can be reactivated if the immune system is weakened (eg due to stress, COVID-19 disease). When the virus is reactivated, the previously inactive pathogens migrate from the nerve nodes along the nerve fibers to their ends on the surface of the skin. There, as a reaction, the characteristic blisters are formed, which wrap around the body in the form of a belt or band. Often only one side of the body is affected. Since the virus “migrates” to the skin via nerve pathways, intense, “throbbing” pain often occurs even before the typical blisters appear. Other symptoms include exhaustion, exhaustion and severe burning to stabbing nerve pains that sometimes last for months. Up to 30 percent of those affected have long-term complications and consequences.6 Sometimes it lasts several months, in other cases the pain can last a lifetime. Shingles can also cause visual disturbances, complete loss of vision and hearing, and, in rare cases, strokes and heart attacks.6
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**Info: Gender-appropriate language: In principle, this text includes all genres. For better readability, however, only one form of gender is used – which is at the discretion of those who wrote the text.
NP-DE-HZX-PRSR-220004, April 2022
2 Bhavsar et al. Open Forum Infectious Diseases, Increased Risk of Shingles in Adults >=50 Diagnosed with COVID-19 in the United States | Open Forum Infectious Diseases | Oxford Academic (oup.com).
3 Harpaz R et al. MMWR Recommend Rep 2008; 57:1-40.
4 Wutzler et al. 2001; Vaccine 20:121-124.
5 Hillebrand K; Infection Journal; 2015;70;178-186.
6 RKI (ed.): In Brief: Immunization Fact Sheets. shingles vaccination; 2020
7 Epidemiological Bulletin 18/2020.
8 Epidemiological Bulletin, 4/2022, p.32.
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Original content by: GlaxoSmithKline GmbH & Co. KG, transmitted by news aktuell