News Release

Family history may be associated with susceptibility to shingles

Peer-Reviewed Publication

JAMA Network

Individuals with herpes zoster, or shingles, are more likely to report a family history of the condition, according to a report in the May issue of Archives of Dermatology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Herpes zoster occurs when the virus that causes chickenpox, varicella zoster, is reactivated in spinal nerves, according to background information in the article. Most adults carry the varicella zoster virus, but only 10 percent to 30 percent develop shingles, which causes nerve pain and substantial health care costs. Risk factors include depressed or suppressed immunity, older age, and other illness. Sex, ethnicity, stress, trauma and exposure to heavy metals also may play a role. More recently, genetic risk factors have been suggested for shingles and other infectious diseases associated with decreased immunity.

Lindsey D. Hicks, B.S., of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, and colleagues compared 504 patients treated for herpes zoster between 1992 and 2005 to 523 control individuals with other minor or chronic skin conditions treated at the same clinic. Participants provided demographic data and answered questions about their personal and family history of herpes zoster.

“A significantly higher proportion of cases reported having a family history of herpes zoster (39.3 percent vs. 10.5 percent),” the authors write. Individuals with herpes zoster were 4.35 times more likely to have a first-degree relative and 4.27 times more likely to have another relative with a history of the condition than individuals in the control group.

“Our study suggests a strong association between the development of herpes zoster and having a blood relative with a history of zoster,” the authors write. “Such patients represent a population that may be at increased risk of developing herpes zoster and therefore have a greater need for vaccination. Therefore, targeting these 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 morbidity,” or illness.


(Arch Dermatol. 2008;144[5]:603-608. Available pre-embargo to the media at

Editor’s Note: Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

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