Can shingles lead to multiple sclerosis (MS)? Viruses have long been suspected as having a role in triggering MS. New research out of China reveals that an outbreak of shingles can significantly increase the risk of developing MS in the coming year. Researchers caution, however, that the overall risks are still small, and more research is needed.
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox. The goal of the study was to investigate the frequency and risk for MS following an occurrence of herpes zoster.
Using the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database, 315,550 patients with herpes zoster were included as the study group, and the control group consisted of 946,650 randomly selected subjects.
Of 1,262,200 sampled patients, 29 from the study group and 24 from the control group had MS during the one-year follow-up period. After adjusting for monthly income and geographic region, the hazard of MS was 3.96 times greater for the study group than controls.
Study authors, Jiunn-Horng Kang, Jau-Jiuan Sheu, Senyeong Kao, and Herng-Ching Lin, concluded: “Our findings support the notion that occurrence of MS could be associated with herpes zoster attack. We found a significantly higher risk for MS within one year of herpes zoster attack compared with the control population.”
From an article in the LA Times: “The authors noted, however, that MS has a lower incidence in Asian populations than in Western ones, so it may be difficult to extrapolate their findings to the rest of the world. In an editorial accompanying the report, Mexican researchers noted that the results provide new insights into the causes of MS, but argued that the research should be corroborated in other regions of the world.”
The research is published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
What is Shingles?
From the Mayo Clinic: “Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful rash. Although shingles can occur anywhere on your body, it most often appears as a band of blisters that wraps from the middle of your back around one side of your chest to your breastbone.
“Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you’ve had chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles.
“While it isn’t a life-threatening condition, shingles can be very painful. Vaccines can help reduce the risk of shingles, while early treatment can help shorten a shingles infection and lessen the chance of complications.”
What is MS?
From the National MS Society: “MS is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.
“The body’s own defense system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system. The nerve fibers themselves can also be damaged. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue (sclerosis), which gives the disease its name. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing the variety of symptoms that can occur.”
Image credit: istockphoto.com
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis,” a memoir. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Author’s Guild, and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo