This Vaccine May Lower Stroke Risk for Older Adults

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Getting vaccinated for shingles may reduce your risk of stroke, especially for people age 66 to 79.

However, that discovery — reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after researchers there studied years of data related to vaccinated patients — comes with a big caveat, at least for now.

The findings are based on an analysis of data on more than 1 million Medicare recipients age 66 or older with no history of stroke who had received the zoster vaccine between 2008 and 2014. This version of the shingles vaccine is largely being replaced by Shingrix, a new and more effective shingles vaccine that became available in 2017.

At this time, it is unknown if Shingrix will confer the same stroke-prevention benefit as the earlier shingles vaccine. However, there is every reason to think that it will.

Study lead author Quanhe Yang, a senior scientist at the CDC, said in an American Heart Association announcement that shingles itself has been linked to an increased risk of stroke:

“The reason for increased risk of stroke after a shingles infection may be due to inflammation caused by the virus.”

The CDC researchers found that people who were vaccinated with the zoster vaccine live version of the shingles vaccine had:

  • A 16% lower risk of stroke in general
  • An 18% lower risk of ischemic (clot-caused) stroke specifically
  • A 12% lower risk of hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke specifically

The vaccine reduced the risk of stroke by nearly 20% among those under the age of 80, by about 10% in those over 80. The researchers said the protective effect was strongest among people ages 66 to 79.

Shingles is a painful, blistering rash that typically clears within a few weeks. However, it also can lead to prolonged complications, ranging from postherpetic neuralgia — a condition that causes lingering pain in the areas where a person had the shingles rash — to blindness.

If you’ve had chickenpox, you’re at risk for shingles. Yang says more than 99% of people ages 40 and older in the U.S. carry the dormant chickenpox virus, also known as the varicella-zoster virus, and 1 in 3 people who have had chickenpox will develop shingles.

The CDC currently recommends that everyone 50 and older get a shingles vaccine — specifically, Shingrix. But it isn’t the only important vaccine that older folks need. For more, check out “Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines.”

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