Herpes zoster infection is linked to increased rates of acute cardiovascular diseases such as ischemic stroke and myocardial infarction, according to a new study.
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at the medical records of more than 67,000 U.S Medicare patients who had shingles and suffered either a stroke or heart attack within a year after the herpes zoster infection.
“We observed a marked increase in the rate of acute cardiovascular events in the first week after zoster diagnosis: a 2.4-fold increased ischemic stroke rate and a 1.7-fold increased Myocardial infarction rate,” said Dr. Caroline Minassian, one of the lead authors of the study.
The scientists believe that there two possible causes behind the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Firstly, the virus may be replicating inside the walls of the blood vessels, causing fatty buildups to break off and cause a stroke or heart attack. Secondly, it might be the pain causing stress that raises the blood pressure.
Minnassian’s team was trying to see if vaccination might help, but hardly any of the participants in the study had been vaccinated. There are vaccines against both chicken pox, for kids and shingles, for adults.
Herpes zoster, a common virus, is the causative agent of both chicken pox and shingles. Following chickenpox, the virus remains inactive within the body. It has a tendency to become active later in life causing shingles, a painful, blistering skin rash that can be complicated by prolonged, severe, disabling pain – a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN).
Shingles can appear at any age but particularly in individuals older than 60 years, those who suffered chickenpox before the age of 1 year, or people with a weakened immune system. IMAGE/Shutterstock