Weakened immune system vulnerable to shingles


A recent study finds most Americans know little about shingles, though the disease is on the rise.

In his practice, Dr. Michael Sanchez is seeing more and more patients coming down with shingles. It comes from the same virus that causes chicken pox. Because shingles affects the nerves, it can cause excruciating pain.

Bill Scholten already deals with the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.

"My joints would hurt, they would ache," he said. "I would get swelling in my wrists, in my hands, my fingers will swell."

Scholten takes anti-inflammatory medications for his rheumatoid arthritis, which does weaken his immune system and leaves him vulnerable to infections, including shingles.

"One of the most important infections for people with rheumatoid arthritis, for example, is herpes zoster reactivation, or shingles," said Dr. Kevin L Winthrop of Oregon Health and Sciences University. "Patients with R.A. are 1 1/2 or 2 times at higher risk for shingles than patients not with R.A."

Other risk factors include being aged 50 and older, stress, poor nutrition and a weakened immune system.

Winthrop studied patients who began anti-tumor necrosis factor therapy and evaluated whether using this therapy was associated with an increased risk of developing shingles.

Researchers also compared these patients to those who used other therapies.

"We found an increased risk of shingles in patients using prednisone and that risk increases with higher doses of prednisone," he said.

So how can you protect yourself? Doctors say patients with auto-immune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, should get the shingles vaccine prior to getting treatment.

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