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Eye Shingles on the Increase Among Baby Boomers

Vaccine Can Prevent Painful Rash That Could Cause Vision Loss

Occurrences of herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO), when shingles gets in the eyes, tripled during 12 years among 21 million adults, according to researchers from the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center.

The researchers emphasize the importance of determining who is at greatest risk for HZO and how to prevent it “because of the severity of the disease and potential sight-threatening complications.” 

Years after having chickenpox, the virus can reactivate and cause the painful and debilitating shingles infection, which can lead to corneal scarring and blindness. 

Researchers found a vast increase in the incidence of HZO across the U.S. between 2004 and 2016, from 9.4 cases per 100,000 people to 30.1 cases per 100,000 people by the end of the study period.

Shingles affecting the eye may be more of a problem for women and adults over the age of 75 years (53 cases per 100,000), who have the highest rates of infection, the study showed. 

Although the disease has been appearing in young adults, shingles is still considered an old-age problem. The study indicated that older patients had a far greater risk for HZO, highlighting the importance of their getting the shingles vaccine.

More white people were diagnosed with HZO than other racial groups, and being female also increased the likelihood of having the infection. This raised questions for the researchers regarding those subjects’ community exposure and whether their immune systems uniquely place them at risk. 

The shingles vaccine (Shingrix) is not widely used, despite a more than 90% efficacy against the infection and its complications. 

Source: Michigan Medicine/University of Michigan, May 1, 2019

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