CDC scientists say shingles vaccine protects against stroke, too

A shingles vaccine known as Zoster Vaccine Live can protect not only against a resurgence of the chickenpox virus, but also against stroke, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference this week in Dallas.

More than 99% of people aged 40 and up carry the dormant chickenpox virus, Quanhe Yang, PhD, and colleagues at the CDC said, and chickenpox is something we often associate with childhood. But one in three people who have had chickenpox develop shingles in their lifetime.

“Approximately one million people in the United States get shingles each year, yet there is a vaccine to help prevent it,” Yang said in a release. “The Zoster Vaccine Live helps to prevent shingles and reduces the risk for shingles by about 51%. But its effect declines with increased age, about 64% in people 60-69 years, about 41% for ages 70-79 years and about 18% in those 80 years or older.”

Yang and colleagues reviewed the Medicare health records of more than 1 million beneficiaries who were vaccinated with the Zoster Vaccine Live between 2008 and 2014. Patients were aged 66 and up and had no history of stroke at baseline; they were matched with a control group of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries who didn’t receive the vaccine.

The team found that receiving the shingles vaccine lowered patients’ overall stroke risk by about 16%, in addition to lowering the risk of ischemic stroke by 18% and lowering the risk of hemorrhagic stroke by 12%. The vaccine was most protective in people aged 66 to 79, in whom the vaccine reduced stroke risk by nearly 20%. In patients older than 80, the vaccine cut risk by about 10%.

“The reason for increased risk of stroke after a shingles infection may be due to inflammation caused by the virus,” Yang said. “Our study results may encourage people ages 50 and older to follow the recommendation and get vaccinated against shingles. You are reducing the risk of shingles, and at the same time you may be reducing your risk of stroke.”

According to the release, Yang et al.’s study was conducted when Zoster Vaccine Live was the only available shingles vaccine. The newest one, introduced in 2017 as the Adjuvanted, Non-Live Recombinant Shingles Vaccine, offers even better protection and is now the CDC’s recommendation.

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