Asthma and Shingles: What's the Connection?

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Mayo Clinic researchers reviewed medical records for potential patients with shingles in Olmsted County, MN.
Mayo Clinic researchers reviewed medical records for potential patients with shingles in Olmsted County, MN.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic reported that adults with asthma had about a 70% greater risk of developing shingles vs. those without asthma. This data adds to their previous findings from 2013 that associated childhood asthma with a higher risk of shingles. Study results are published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology

The prevalence of shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is notable between ages 50-59 but it is still not clear why some people will develop shingles and other will not. Mayo Clinic researchers reviewed medical records for potential patients with shingles in Olmsted County, MN. During the study period, 371 cases of shingles were compared against 742 controls. Of the shingles cases, 23% (87/371) had asthma vs. 15% (114/742) of the controls. 

Study authors also noted that asthma and atopic dermatitis were independently linked to a greater risk of shingles. For patients with atopic dermatitis, shingles occurred in 12% (45/371) vs. 8% (58/742) of the controls.

The increased risk may be due to asthma helping to suppress adaptive immunity, which may increase the risk of varicella zoster virus reactivation. Patients with asthma or atopic dermatitis are already known to have impaired innate immune functions in the skin and airways. 

Young Juhn, MD, lead author of the study, concluded that "consideration should be given to immunizing adults aged 50 years and older with asthma or atopic dermatitis as a target group for zoster vaccination." The researchers note that neither inhaled corticosteroids nor vaccinations were associated with a higher risk of shingles.

Reference

1. Kwon HJ, Bang DW, Kim EU, et al. Asthma as a risk factor for zoster in adults: A population-based case-control study. J All Clin Immunol. 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2015.10.032

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