Observational Study Suggests COVID-19 Could Increase Shingles Risk in Adults Aged 50 and Older

Those hospitalized for COVID-19 were 21% more likely to develop shingles.

A new analysis of nearly 2 million Americans 50 years of age and older suggests that patients diagnosed with COVID-19 may be more likely to develop shingles in the 6 months following their diagnosis, according to researchers at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Researchers observed adults this patient population using claims data from 2 large US databases and matched individuals with and without COVID-19 using various known shingles risk factors. Any individuals vaccinated against either shingles or COVID-19 were excluded from the cohorts.

Shingles is caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, which lays dormant in the body after an initial infection. Nearly all adults over the age of 50 carry the virus and natural age-related decline of the immune system can cause it to resurface, causing shingles. Individuals with a suppressed or compromised immune system also have an increased risk of developing shingles.

According to the results, individuals 50 years of age or older who contracted COVID-19 were 15% more likely to develop shingles compared to controls who were never diagnosed with COVID-19, and this risk was elevated for up to 6 months following the diagnosis. Furthermore, those hospitalized for COVID-19 were 21% more likely to develop shingles.

“This is the first epidemiological evidence linking prior COVID-19 infection with increased shingles risk among older adults, who are already at heightened risk of shingles due to age-related decline in immunity,” said Temi Folaranmi, MD, vice president and vaccines therapeutic area head for US Medical Affairs at GSK, in a press release. “It is important that health care professionals are aware of this potential increased risk so that patients can be diagnosed and treated early if they develop shingles following COVID-19.”

Investigators noted that although the study was controlled for possible confounding, there is a possibility for residual confounding. For example, although the study excluded individuals vaccinated against either COVID-19 or shingles, it is possible that not all vaccinations were recorded in the database.

Additionally, neither of the included databases contain information from individuals insured through Medicaid or Medicare, which may affect the generalizability of the results.

“These results also highlight the importance of preventative measures, such as vaccination, to protect the health and wellbeing of older adults who are at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases like COVID-19 and shingles,” Folaranmi said in the press release.

REFERENCE

New Large-Scale Observational Study Shows COVID-19 Could Create Vulnerability to Shingles for People Age 50+. News release. GSK; April 6, 2022. Accessed April 6, 2022. https://us.gsk.com/en-us/media/press-releases/new-large-scale-observational-study/