Family History Ups Shingles Risk

Study Shows Shingles More Likely if Your Relative Had the Condition

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on May 16, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

May 19, 2008 -- A new study shows that people with shingles, or herpes zoster infection, are more than four times likely to have a first-degree relative with a history of the condition.

Shingles is a painful nerve condition linked to the chickenpox virus, varicella zoster. If you've ever had the chickenpox, the virus remains in your body, usually dormant. But in 10%-30% of people, the virus comes back along the nerves, typically causing a blistery rash and severe burning and tingling pain.

Shingles can affect anyone who has had chickenpox, but older adults and people with a weakened immune system are more likely to develop the condition. Stress, injury, and even exposure to heavy metals may increase your risk.

In recent years, research has suggested that a person's genes may make them more susceptible to developing shingles and other infectious diseases associated with decreased immunity. To further examine risk factors for herpes zoster beyond age and immunosuppression, Lindsey D. Hicks of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and colleagues compared 504 patients treated for herpes zoster with 523 people with other minor or chronic skin conditions. People with weakened immune systems were not included in the study.

The study appears in the May issue of Archives of Dermatology.

Participants answered questions about their personal and family histories of shingles and described any painful red rashes that they may have had in the past. If they answered yes to a family history of shingles, they researchers asked if the relative sought professional medical care for the condition. Additional questions focused on the specific medications, if any, prescribed to treat the shingles.

The analysis showed that those being treated for shingles were much more likely to report a family history of the condition. About 39% of the shingles patients said they had another relative with a history of the condition, compared with 10.5% of those in the comparison group.

The study suggests a strong association between the development of shingles and having a blood relative with a history of shingles, the researchers say in a news release. Offering shingles vaccination to at-risk individuals based on their family history may decrease both their chance of future herpes zoster infection and health care expenditures toward herpes zoster, they write.

The CDC now recommends the shingles vaccine Zostavax for people aged 60 and older.

Show Sources


News release, American Medical Association.

Archives of Dermatology, May 2008: vol 144: pp 603-608.

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