There is a link between shingles and infection

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Out: Caroline Gehrman


Study shows link between corona and increased risk of shingles. What does the chicken pox pathogen have to do with it and what are the symptoms.

Bremen – It is well known that a coronavirus infection can have serious consequences, such as Long Covid. The level of suffering is often enormous: “Brain fog” after a long Covid often makes everyday life difficult for a long time. And some even experience depression as a result of Long Covid. However, infection with the coronavirus can also lead to another unpleasant disease: shingles.

The connection between corona infection – from BA.2.75 to XXB to BQ.1.1, there are currently many omicron variants – and the occurrence of a painful skin disease was confirmed in an American study.

Why is this, what does the chicken pox pathogen have to do with it, and what are the symptoms.

A study from the US shows a link between coronavirus infection and shingles

The news about the coronavirus and how to deal with it is a bit ambivalent at the moment – although the list of possible late effects of Covid 19 seems to be getting longer and longer. While some federal states such as Schleswig-Holstein or Bavaria want to abolish the obligation to isolate people infected with the corona, experts in many places warn of a severe corona pandemic winter, which is mainly triggered by the ever-spreading and highly contagious variants of omicrons, such as BA.2.75, the so-called .”Hellhound” BQ.1.1 or later XBB variant. The risk of contracting Covid-19 is high, especially now that it’s getting colder again in the fall and winter. Many people are also at risk of reinfection – the risk increases depending on the omicron virus variant of the initial infection.

After corona infection: According to the study, the risk of shingles increases by at least 15 percent

In the case of shingles, apparently another disease is now part of the long list of possible consequences of the coronavirus infection. American scientists led by Amit Bhavsar from the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline found a clear connection between the two diseases corona and shingles. According to the study, the risk of shingles increases by 15 percent in people over the age of 50. According to the findings of scientists, age is a decisive factor for the development of skin diseases – but also the severity of the disease Covid 19.

After a severe course of corona with hospitalization, the risk increases by even 21 percent. For a new study published in the journal “Open Forum Infectious Diseases” that sheds light on the link between coronavirus infection and shingles, researchers analyzed health insurance records from about 1.6 million people to see if increased incidence shingles due to corona disease.

The connection between corona and shingles: the pathogen responsible for varicella

However, it is not the coronavirus itself that is responsible for shingles, but another virus: the varicella-zoster virus. Most adults carry them because they also cause the highly contagious infectious disease chicken pox. Most older people were not vaccinated as children and had chicken pox at some point in their lives.

The chicken pox virus is called varicella zoster and can cause shingles decades later if the immune system is weakened. © Science Photo Library/IMAGO

However, the insidious thing about the “children’s disease” of chicken pox is: The viruses remain inactive in the body even after overcoming the acute illness. To a certain extent, they “dormant” in nerve nodes – for life. A person’s immune system normally ensures that it cannot harm anything. However, if this is weakened – as with a coronary infection – then the varicella-zoster virus can re-emerge and strike in the form of shingles.

People over the age of 50 are at increased risk of shingles – often shortly after a coronavirus infection

The medical term for shingles is herpes zoster. The data analyzed in the study showed that the disease often appeared a week after the Covid illness – in some even shortly after. Those affected then battled two diseases: Corona and shingles. However, the skin disease can also appear with a delay. Eight to ten weeks later, according to the study. The risk normalizes again up to six months after the coronavirus.

The link between corona and shingles: a weakened immune system is the key

Since the immune system is heavily burdened by the corona infection, the immune cells are severely depleted – the body’s defenses are “weak”. Even when the disease ends, it often does. And so next to Long Covid and Co. shingles often occurs. Immune cells are simply no longer able to keep dormant varicella-zoster viruses at bay in the body. Pathogens are reactivated and multiply.

Symptoms of shingles often appear shortly after infection with corona

Symptoms of shingles that may appear after corona infection are fatigue, headache and often fever. Noisy The reactivated pathogens “migrate” along the nerve pathways into the skin, where they cause pain and the typical rashes and blisters. Usually only the nerves on one side of the body are affected, so the rash often appears as a stripe on only one side.

First, there is pain in the affected areas, the skin is extremely irritated and sensitive. Redness of the skin appears for one to two days, which later turns into a blister. A doctor’s office should be sought at the latest, because antiviral drugs (virostatics) that fight the varicella-zoster virus should be taken within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms. Common painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol help with pain.

Shingles usually heals after four weeks – but serious complications are possible

Shingles usually heals after four weeks. The blisters then heal and the immune system regenerates. However, complications can also occur if the pathogens have also affected areas in the head, such as the eyes or ears. Then hearing or vision problems may remain. About 15 to 20 percent of patients with shingles develop a sore throat Focus also the so-called postherpetic neuralgia (PZN), i.e. permanent nerve pain in the nerve pathways along which the pathogens moved. This can manifest as constant pain or bouts of pain, often for many months.

Vaccination against shingles recommended for people over 60 years of age

The Standing Vaccination Committee (Stiko) of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) recommends vaccination against shingles for all people over the age of 60 so that, in the best case scenario, shingles does not occur at all. It is covered by health insurance companies. The inactivated vaccine can usually be administered by a family doctor. People with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or asthma are recommended to be vaccinated from the age of 50.

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