Emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients may be at a higher-than-average risk for developing shingles, according to a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
A painful rash caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, shingles (herpes zoster) is caused by a recurrence of the chickenpox virus, which hides in the body’s nerve tissue where it can become active again later in life. It is most common in people 50 years of age and older, as well as in those whose bodies cannot fight off illness as well as others. However, if people have not had chickenpox in their life, they are not at risk for shingles.
In the study, researchers examined nearly 8,500 COPD patients age 50 and older. They found on average that every year for 10 years, 16 of every 1,000 patients developed shingles. They compared this group to a group of nearly 34,000 COPD-free adults of the same age; in the COPD-free group, only nine out of every 1,000 adults developed shingles each year. When outside factors were considered, such as overall health and income, COPD was linked to a twofold increase in the risk of shingles.
Researchers believe this increased vulnerability is a result of the widespread inflammation in the body and the disruption of some parts of the immune system caused by COPD. These findings are concurrent with past studies that have linked other inflammatory conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, to a higher-than-average risk of shingles.
Like chickenpox, there is no cure for shingles. However, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and speed recovery, especially if they are taken soon after the rash appears. A one-time vaccine, called Zostavax, is also available and reduces the risk of developing the condition in the first place.
“Because shingles is frequently complicated with chronic pain, leading to reduced quality of life, we suggest COPD patients discuss with their doctor if they are appropriate for shingles vaccination,” said Dr. Ya-Wen Yang of Tapei Medical University, the lead researcher on the study, in a press release.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one-quarter to one-third of adults will develop shingles at some point in their life. Of those, one-third of which will develop complications, most commonly long-lasting nerve pain that can go on for months or even years after the rash has healed.