Development Of Shingles Linked To Family History

A recent report published in the Archives of Dermatology
finds that people who have herpes zoster – commonly known as shingles
– are more likely to
have family members who also have had the condition.

Herpes zoster is a disease characterized by a skin rash with blisters
in a specific area or on one side of the body. It is caused when the
virus varicella zoster – the virus that causes chickenpox – becomes
reactivated in nerves of the spinal cord. Though the majority of adults
carry varicella zoster, only between 10% and 30% actually develop
shingles. The disease leads to nerve pain and can be very expensive to
treat. People who are older, depressed, and have compromised immune
systems or other illnesses are more likely to suffer with shingles.
However, it has also been previously shown that sex, ethnicity, stress,
trauma and exposure to heavy metals
are risk factors associated with the disease. Recent research in the
field of genetics has pointed to additional related risk factors for
shingles and other infectious diseases associated with reduced immune

The research focus of Lindsey D. Hicks, B.S. (University of Texas
Medical School at Houston)
and colleagues was to assess risk factors for herpes zoster beyond age
and immunosuppression, particularly because of the availability of a
new herpes zoster vaccine. The researchers analyzed 504 patients who
were treated for herpes zoster between 1992 and
2005 and compared them to 523 control individuals who were treated for
other minor or chronic skin conditions
at the same clinic. Additional data were collected that pertained to
demographic information as well as the personal and family history of
herpes zoster.

The authors’ main finding was that, “A significantly higher proportion
of cases reported having a family
history of herpes zoster (39.3 percent vs. 10.5 percent).” Compared to
individuals in the control group, those who had herpes zoster were 4.35
times as likely to have a
first-degree relative and 4.27 times more likely to have some other
blood relative with
a history of the disease.

“Our study suggests a strong association between the development of
zoster and having a blood relative with a history of zoster. Such
patients represent a population that may be at increased risk
of developing herpes zoster and therefore have a greater need for
Therefore, targeting these at-risk individuals based on their family
may decrease both their chance of future herpes zoster infection and
care expenditures toward herpes zoster morbidity,” conclude the authors.

Family History as a Risk Factor for Herpes
Zoster: A Case-Control Study

Lindsey D. Hicks; Robert H. Cook-Norris; Natalia Mendoza; Vandana
Madkan; Anita Arora; Stephen K. Tyring
Archives of Dermatology. (2008). 144[5]:603-608.

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Written by: Peter M Crosta

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