An new study developed at the University of Colorado Medicine links chicken pox and shingles to a condition that inflames the blood vessels of the temples and scalp called giant cell arteritis occurring in the elderly. Giant cell arteritis can be life threatening causing blindness and stroke.
“Our analysis, which is the largest to-date, provides compelling evidence that the virus also reactivates in people over 60 in another way, triggering giant cell arteritis,” said lead author Don Gilden, MD, professor of neurology and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.
Gilden’s study is published in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
For the study, researchers searched for evidence of the virus in 13 temporal artery biopsies of people who died and had no previous symptoms of giant cell arteritis and in 84 temporal artery biopsies of people with giant cell arteritis. All of the biopsies were from people over the age of 50. The virus was found in 74 percent of the biopsies with giant cell arteritis and in only 8 percent of the normal skin biopsies.
Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent chickenpox with two doses of the vaccine called Varicella that are recommended for children and adults . Also then protected from shingles years later. The only way to reduce the risk of developing shingles (herpes zoster) and the long-term pain that can follow shingles is to get vaccinated. You are at risk of shingles if you had chickenpox. Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus (called varicella zoster) in a person’s body.
Almost 1 out of every 3 people in the United States will develop shingles according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles; even children can get them. Shingles is an extremely painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body. The rash forms blisters and usually they scab over in 7 to 10 days. However, before the rash develops, people often have pain, itching or tingling in the area.
Shingles most commonly occurs in people ages 50 or older. The CDC recommends a single dose of the vaccine for people ages 60 and older, even if you have suffered from a shingles attack. And most insurance companies do cover the vaccine at age 60 though there are some that will pay it between 50 and 60. Medicare Part D does cover the cost of the shingles vaccine.