People 50 and older who have had a mild case of covid-19 are 15 percent more likely to develop shingles (herpes zoster) within six month than are those who have not been infected by the coronavirus, according to research published in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases . The risk, however, was found to be even greater for older people who were hospitalized because of a more severe covid case, making them 21 percent more likely to develop shingles than those who did not have covid. The findings stem from data on roughly 2 million people — nearly 400,000 diagnosed with covid-19 and 1.6 million who had no coronavirus infection. Shingles is an outbreak of a painful rash or blisters on the skin, most often occurring on one side of the torso. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox. After someone has chickenpox, usually as a child, the varicella-zoster virus remains in their body and can become active again years or decades later, this time causing shingles. Most often, this happens after age 50.
The researchers suggested that a coronavirus infection may trigger reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus. In the United States, about 1 million people a year develop shingles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 1 in 3 adults will have shingles at some point. To prevent it, the CDC recommends that adults 50 and older (as well as anyone with a weakened immune system) get two doses of the shingles vaccine, called Shingrix. None of the study participants had been vaccinated against shingles or the coronavirus.
This article is part of The Post’s “Big Number” series, which takes a brief look at the statistical aspect of health issues. Additional information and relevant research are available through the hyperlinks.