"However, several other factors could also be involved," he added.
No known treatment exists to reduce the apparent risk of stroke that results from shingles infection, Kang said. "Our interest and ongoing research are focused on whether early anti-viral treatment for herpes zoster can reduce the risk of stroke," he said. "Also, from the clinical view, patients who have a shingles attack should be aware of the risk of stroke, and intensive monitoring and management of pre-existing risk factors for stroke, such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia [raised lipid levels] and diabetes, should be emphasized."
Shingles usually starts as a rash on one side of the face or body, which often causes pain, itching and tingling. Attacks can last for two to four weeks. The incidence of shingles increases with age, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends most people over 60 be vaccinated against the virus, with the major exception being those with weakened immune systems.
While there have been scattered reports about a possible association of shingles with stroke, "to my knowledge this is the first study to link shingles very specifically with stroke," said Dr. Daniel Lackland, professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, and a spokesman for the American Stroke Association.
"It might be a little too early for a lot of clinical implications here," Lackland said. "But a physician who is treating someone with shingles should emphasize the importance of traditional risk factors for stroke, and let the patient know that your risk might be a little bit increased and you should pay more attention to high blood pressure, cholesterol and the like."
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