The COVID-Shingles Connection

by Millennium Physician Group

If You’re Over 50, COVID Can Increase Your Shingles Risk

Even if you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, you may not be completely in the clear. If you’re 50 or older and have had COVID-19, you’re at a greater risk for shingles. Millennium Physician Group Internal Medicine Physician Alejandro Perez-Trepichio explains the connection and what you can do to lower your risk for this potentially painful condition.

“We have come across data that shows that when somebody has COVID, there is an increased risk for having shingles,” he says. “And that has to do with the immune system during COVID that it makes us more prone to contract shingles as well.”

In fact, studies are showing that adults 50 and older who’ve had COVID-19 are 15 to 21% more likely to develop shingles within six months.

“Our system becomes somewhat distracted fighting COVID, and therefore is sort of exhausted,” explains Dr. Perez-Trepichio.

Shingles is caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant, but can reactivate years later, causing shingles. If you’ve ever had chickenpox, you can get shingles, and your risk of shingles increases as you get older.

Common shingles symptoms include:

  • Burning
  • Shooting pain
  • Tingling
  • Itching
  • Painful rash with fluid-filled blisters

You may also experience:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Upset stomach

Several antiviral medicines are available to treat shingles and shorten its length and severity. These are most effective if you start taking them as soon as possible after the rash appears. Dr. Perez-Trepichio says even after the rash disappears, the pain can last for months, even years.

“The real issue here is that we don’t know who is going to have this excruciating pain following the shingles. So now after ten days to two weeks of having shingles, the skin is completely recovered. We look at it, nothing is there. But it’s a tremendous amount of pain. It’s called postherpetic neuralgia. In other words, pain after shingles. And these could be devastating in many cases.”

To prevent shingles, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the two-dose shingles vaccine for all adults age 50 and older.

“The best advice that we can give is during this pandemic for the duration and always in general terms it’s a good idea to be vaccinated with the shingles vaccine,” agrees Dr. Perez-Trepichio.

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