U.K. Survey Supports Likelihood of Link Between Chicken Pox-Shingles Virus and MS

U.K. Survey Supports Likelihood of Link Between Chicken Pox-Shingles Virus and MS

A large U.K. survey assessing the frequency of chickenpox and shingles in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients suggests a link between these diseases and MS, researchers report, suggesting their findings could help in decisions regarding immunosuppressive treatments and varicella-zoster virus vaccinations.

Results of the study “Prevalence of a history of prior varicella/herpes zoster infection in multiple sclerosis” were published in the Journal of Neurovirology.

The exact cause of MS eludes scientists, but several studies show the disease is based on complex interactions between environmental and genetic risk factors. Among environmental factors, several viruses have been implicated in MS development.

The varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which causes chickenpox, remains in the body after a first infection, staying dormant in nerves around the spinal cord. Later in life, the virus can reactivate and cause a disease known as shingles.

Shingles occurs more frequently in immune-compromised individuals, and treatment with newer disease-modifying and immunosuppressive medications in MS patients have been linked to the virus’ reactivation.

Long-lasting immunity to VZV infection is mediated by T-cells (a type of immune cell that fights infection), and newer treatments targeting T-cells can potentially reduce immune responses against VZV.

“Given that the use of new generation disease-modifying treatment is rapidly growing and that these treatments are known or likely to affect immune surveillance and responses against VZV, it is important to know the prevalence of a history of VZV exposure, as a primary infection (i.e., a history of chickenpox) or as a reactivation (zoster) [shingles] in MS patients,” the team wrote.

To assess the frequency of chickenpox and shingles in MS patients, researchers surveyed using questionnaires 1,206 randomly selected MS patients registered with the Nottingham University Hospital MS clinics.

Answers were returned from 605  patients, with a mean age of 53. None were using immunosuppressive treatments.

The majority — 86 percent — reported having had chickenpox, which is comparable with what is expected for the general population. Seventeen patients (3 percent) reported that the episode of chickenpox occurred after the onset of MS.

“The existence of a minority of MS patients who have not been exposed to VZV and who acquire the primary infection after the onset of MS needs to be taken into account in therapeutic decision-making processes,” the researchers wrote.

“It also suggests that vaccination against herpes zoster could be considered in people with MS, in particular in those about to be treated with disease-modifying drugs potentially affecting VZV responses,” they added.

Of the 594 patients who answered the shingles part of the questionnaire, 104 (17 percent) reported at least one episode of shingles. Researchers found this figure to be higher than expected in a matched general population — and noted that no difference in shingles rates was seen between male and female patients.

“The higher frequency of shingles in our MS population cannot be explained by the higher proportion of females, suggesting a real difference,” they wrote.

More than half of the patients with history of shingles also had the disease prior to developing MS.

“The substantial proportion of subjects who had a history of zoster before the development of MS suggests the virus as a possible risk factor for MS or marker of an immune response that predisposes to MS. Moreover, a history of zoster infection seems to be more common in people with MS than would be expected in a general MS population,”  the team concluded.

13 comments

  1. Laura Drake says:

    This is all true. I have Secondary Progressive MS. I had chicken pox when I was 8 years old and shingles as a teenager and again as an adult. I had the shingles vaccine at age 62. I occasional get an ulcer like sore at the end of my spinal column and sometime on my pelvic bone, but it never becomes a full blown case of shingles. I believe there is a definite link between MS and the shingles/chicken pox virus. I am now 69.

    • Lori says:

      Laura,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I had chicken pox at 5 years old. Started getting exactly what you describe at the end of my spinal column ~16 years ago, I have never heard of this from anyone before. I received my MS diagnoses ~12 years ago. (as a side note: also had a brutal case of Mono as a young teen) I have always wondered if these factors are related. Thank you again for sharing. Hope you are well. Lori

  2. Kathy Goffic says:

    Well here is a study that is not working, so if studies show that if you have anyone of these the possblites are you get MS, there should be a more people with it. when is nursing school, everyone but me had had chicken pox, or family members with shingles, or shingle type issues. But I interviewed or looked at many charts of MS pt’s and not one had either, not me either. So this study maybe just a money grab, no worth the read. But nice try, I guess. Your are looking in the wrong area.

  3. Linda Phillips says:

    My daughter has rrms and even though she was exposed to the virus when all her three sisters developed chicken pox as children, she never did. My opinion, Is that any virus/vaccination/trauma can “trigger” ms if you are genetically prone and your body is running low on vitamin d at the time of exposure. I also know many other people who have had chicken pox and shingles later in life but do not have ms.

  4. Jim says:

    I have often wondered if there would be a link between having the chicken pox at an earlier age and later being diagnosed with MS. Maybe researchers are on to something big, like a cure for MS. I sure do hope so. I remember being outside playing tennis while I had the chickenpox and often wondered if that led to me having multiple sclerosis.

  5. Bonnie says:

    I am about to undergo my first treatment of Lemtrada for MS which I have had since 1996. I am now 59. I had chicken pox as a child but do not remember the age. I have never had shingles before, but have had a cold sore which is of a similar virus. Should I be worried about the effects of Lemtrada which affect the B and T cells of the immune system.It brings it down and allows the body to rebuild the cells naturally. If anyone has been through this please provide input. I know we are all different with how MS affects us, but some additional experiences would be nice.

  6. Claudia Chamberlain says:

    I never had the chicken pox as a child. I got MS at 23. I had the chicken pox vaccine when my children did – I was 32 – for fear I would get it from an unvaccinated child. Now I am 50. No doctor has been able to give me a clear answer on whether having the chicken pox vaccine will make me more or less likely to get shingles. Based on this article, I will likely skip the shingles vaccine!

  7. Collette says:

    Wow! I have an almost identical story. I have Secondary Progressive MS. I had chickenpox as a child and have had a few bouts of shingles. I, too, periodically get a sore at the very bottom of my spine that never goes in to full blown shingles. I had the shingles shots…..the original and then the newer version. I am 70.

  8. Bambi Guthrie says:

    I had chicken pox as a child. I had shingles several times as a young adult. Diagnosed with MS when I was 46. Got the shingles shot whe I was 55. But I still get shingles. They are becoming more frequently all the time now

  9. Jess says:

    What I don’t understand is that I have had many many friends who have had the chicken pox (not shingles) that do not have MS or any kind of autoimmune disease. Also all of my friends have had shots when they were babies.. yet no MS. I am sure there could be some kind of link to it but I don’t believe that it’s a hundred percent true I have never had chickenpox or shingles and yet I have MS. Also no one in my family has MS. My vitamin D was very low so I think that’s what caused it. Again a lot of people that I know have had chicken pox and yet they are completely healthy.. I hope we find a cure for MS soon. I have three little kids and all I could think about is will I be ok for them in ten years ? I am on Colpaxion and I’m ok for now. But I am so scared. I prey my kids will be healthy and I prey to walk my kids down the aisle one day at their wedding ? I am scared and afraid of what will happen to me ? I thank people on this website for giving me some hope. Thank you ♥️

  10. Sandi says:

    I had chickenpox as a very young child, then had a shingles episode at age 60 after school of MS. Was in hospital one week out of my head and had two seizures. My Neuro doc allowed me to take the shingles vaccine after this episode, her only patient to do so, to hopefully prevent this from happening again. That was one year ago and so far no,untoward effects and no shingles.

  11. Celia says:

    I never got chicken pox when i was child even though i was exposed.When i decided to start my family i checked if i had antibodies and i did so i didn’t get vaccinated.I got mono when i was an adolescent. I blame the mono for my MS. I will get the new shingles vaccine that is coming out this year.It is not a live virus.

  12. Anne says:

    Some readers seem to have missed the statement in the article that chickenpox and shingles are environmental factors that may cause MS in people who are genetically disposed to it. The article does not say that chickenpox or shingles can cause MS on its own. That explains why many people get the chicken pox virus but do not get m.s. I had chickenpox at three years old, shingles at 13, mono at 14 and cytomegalovirus at 19. I developed m.s. in my very early 20s. In addition, there is a history of multiple sclerosis in other members of my family. This supports the idea that it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors that causes MS.

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