Having COVID-19 increases your risk of shingles if you are over 50
Having COVID-19 increases your risk of shingles if you are over 50

Having COVID-19 increases your risk of shingles if you are over 50

COVID-19 has been linked to a number of unusual side effects, such as COVID toes and loss of taste and smell, but new research has found that the virus can also increase your risk of developing another disease: shingles.

That’s the most important thing from a new study published in the journal Open forum infectious diseases. For the study, researchers analyzed data from nearly 2 million people aged 50 and up and compared the number of shingles (aka herpes zoster) in people who had COVID-19 with those who had never had the virus.

The researchers found that people who had COVID-19 had a 15% higher risk of shingles than those who did not have the virus. The risk was even higher – 21% – in people who had been admitted with COVID-19.

This, the researchers concluded, highlights “the relevance of maintaining herpes zoster vaccination.”

It seems strange that you can get shingles after having COVID, but experts say it is not shocking. Here’s what you need to know about the link.

What is shingles again?

Shingles is a condition caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Once you get over the chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in your body. However, it can reactivate years later, causing shingles.

Shingles causes a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. It can cause pain, itching or tingling in the area, along with fever, headache, chills and an upset stomach. “It can be very painful when you have shingles and can also be problematic in some people afterwards,” says Thomas Russo, MD, professor and head of infectious diseases at the University of Buffalo in New York. Shingles can even cause something known as postherpetic neuralgia, he says, which is essentially persistent pain from the virus.

How can COVID-19 increase your risk of shingles?

The study did not examine this, but there are some theories. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, “is known to cause immune dysfunction and physiological stress,” said infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. This, he says, could lead to a resurgence of the varicella zoster virus.

In general, people are at a higher risk of developing shingles as they get older and their immune system begins to weaken. American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says. But other people with a weakened immune system, such as those with certain cancers, HIV, taking medication to suppress their immune system or undergoing chemotherapy, are also at greater risk, the AAD says.

“But we do not always know exactly why people develop shingles in the first place,” says William Schaffner, MD, a specialist in infectious diseases and a professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “A lot of people develop shingles and they can’t identify any triggering event.” Dr. Russo agrees. “When people develop shingles, it’s sometimes quite mysterious why it happened,” he says.

Still, says Dr. Schaffner, there have been anecdotal reports of people developing shingles after having an infection. “It’s not entirely clear why this is the case – one would think that an infection would strengthen the immune system, and shingles is thought to occur when the immune system is suppressed,” says Dr. Schaffner.

Are rashes symptoms of coronavirus?

Currently, the CDC does not mention rash as one of the main symptoms of COVID-19. To list of symptoms include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

    Dr. Schaffner says, however, “rash has been described but is not a prominent feature of COVID-19.”

    What are the common skin manifestations of COVID-19?

    There have been reports of other skin problems developing from COVID-19. A big one, says Dr. Schaffner, er COVID toeswhich are unusual blisters and skin discolorations that can develop on the toes when someone has the virus.

    That AAD also states that COVID-19 can cause the following skin manifestations:

    • Itchy buds
    • Blisters resembling chickenpox
    • Round, precise spots on the skin
    • Large spots with several smaller ones
    • A lace-like pattern on the skin
    • Flat spots and swollen bumps that go together

      How can you reduce your risk of developing shingles from COVID?

      To reduce your risk of developing shingles from COVID, Dr. recommends Russo to get both your COVID-19 vaccine and herpes zoster vaccine (if you are eligible). CDC at the moment recommend that people aged 60 and over get the herpes zoster vaccine, regardless of whether they previously had shingles or not.

      If you have received the chickenpox vaccine (which is recommended for children, teens and adults who have never had chickenpox and have never been vaccinated), it should also lower your risk, says Dr. Russo, although there is no data on this yet.

      In general, Dr. Schaffner, however, that reducing the odds of you getting COVID-19 should reduce the risk of developing shingles as a complication of the virus.

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