The Effects of Shingles Go Beyond Pain and Discomfort

Herpes zoster, or shingles, can interfere with all health.

For patients with acute herpes zoster, or shingles, the condition can interfere with all health, including sleep, enjoyment of life, and general activities, according to a study published in Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Herpes zoster is a reactivation of the chicken pox virus. The condition results in pain and a rash with small blisters. It occurs in people who have had chicken pox and is most common in people over the age of 50, but can also occur in younger people. The lifetime risk of developing shingles is about 30%, but may increase as life expectancies increase. Approximately 500,000 in the country have the condition.

Policymakers are being asked to consider implementing vaccination programs for the herpes zoster vaccine, which is available as a preventative tool. However, more information is needed on the impact of shingles.

The MASTER study (Monitoring and Assessing Shingles Through Education and Research) was conducted in Canada to provide an in-depth understanding of the impact of shingles. The multi-centre study involved outpatients recruited through general practitioners or specialists across Canada.

The study took place from October 2005 to July 2006 and included 261 outpatients with herpes zoster ages 50 years and older. The patients were recruited from the clinical practices of 83 physicians within 14 days after rash onset. The researchers used the Zoster Brief Pain Inventory and the EuroQol EQ-5D assessment tool to measure scores.

“Acute herpes zoster significantly affected quality-of-life and functional status,” writes Dr. Marc Brisson, Laval University, with coauthors. “Sleeping, enjoyment of life, general activities, mood, normal work and quality-of-life domains of pain/discomfort and usual activities were particularly diminished. This was consistently observed across all age groups.”

The results demonstrated that the condition interfered with sleep in 64% of the subjects. It interfered in enjoyment of life in 58% of the subjects. It interfered with general activities in 53% of the subjects. Also, the median duration of pain was 32.5 days.

The discomfort of shingles can also persist for months after the acute phase, with 24% of people in the study developing pain (postherpetic neuralgia) after the rash healed. The risk increased for older people.

The researchers conclude that this study reinforces “the need for effective prevention strategies, such as vaccination, and additional early intervention to reduce the burden of herpes zoster and postherpetic neuralgia."