Cause of GCA chicken pox and shingles virus??

Picked up the following today from a Facebook group for GCA based largely in USA thought this may be of interest to share:-

A new study developed at the University of Colorado School of Medicine at the Anschutz Medical Campus links the virus that causes chicken pox and shingles to a condition that inflames blood vessels on the temples and scalp in the elderly, called giant cell arteritis.

Giant cell arteritis, which can cause blindness or stroke and can be life-threatening, is linked in the study to the varicella zoster virus, of the herpes virus family, which causes chicken pox and may reactivate later in life in the form of shingles, a very painful rash.

"Our analysis, which is the largest to-date, provides compelling evidence that the virus also reactivates in people over 60 in another way, triggering giant cell arteritis," said lead author Don Gilden, MD, professor of neurology and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

Gilden's study is published in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Giant cell arteritis causes swelling and tenderness of the arteries on the scalp and temples of people over the age of 50. Gilden noted that it is the most common type of inflammation of blood vessels in the elderly, affecting an estimated 29 out of 100,000 people. Symptoms include a new severe headache, scalp tenderness, jaw discomfort, blurred vision, fever, weight loss and tiredness.

For the study, researchers searched for evidence of the virus in 13 temporal artery biopsies of people who died and had no previous symptoms of giant cell arteritis and in 84 temporal artery biopsies of people with giant cell arteritis. All of the biopsies were from people over the age of 50.

The virus was found in 74 percent of the biopsies with giant cell arteritis and in only 8 percent of the normal skin biopsies.

"If the association in this landmark study can be replicated in other studies, clinical trials should focus on treating people with giant cell arteritis with a combination of the current steroid drugs used for the condition, plus antiviral treatment for the virus," said Peter Kennedy, CBE, MD, PhD, DSc, with the Glasgow University in Scotland, in a corresponding editorial.

Story Source

Materials provided by University of Colorado Denver. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

11 Replies

  • This study was put out in February/2015. I've noticed a fair share of posts in different PMR/GCA groups of people developing shingles before/during the disease with often repeated bouts. I asked my rheumatologist some time ago about the link and he just said more research was needed. I had shingles a long time ago in my 30's. I think it would be interesting if they started doing a shingles exam on TABs now though. I wonder if one could request it?


  • I've seen this before - and the expert commentary on it pointed out that it only really shows correlation and not causation and is a single study. The vast majority of us will have had chicken pox as children and there are patients with GCA who don't have the virus present in the TABs. GCA can be present in other arteries even though it can't be identified in the temporal artery. It was suggested in the discussion I saw that maybe it suggests different versions of GCA.

    There is one lady on one of the forums who is being treated with antiviral drugs but I don't know how she is progressing. Another lady has been on longterm antivirals for some time - and still developed GCA.

    However - you would think that a trial of adding antiviral medication wouldn't be too problematic...

  • Thanks I bow to your greater knowledge (I have only been studying GCA for 7 months!)

    Back in June I actually went to the doctor to check out I did not have shingles (again) as I was planning to travel and see my grandson. All the symptoms i had checked out as shingles online (including a skin rash). However the diagnosis was GCA and thankfully early. The clincher was jaw claudication and ESR of 124.

  • This is very interesting DevonMichael and the first I had heard of that kind of link. Thank you for sharing.

  • It is interesting though that us GCA people are warned about keeping well away from chicken pox...

  • Yes so true! And people with shingles........!

  • Maybe I should go for an anti shingle jab???

  • That is because of the pred and potential suppression of your immune system. It isn't because of the shingles - but in case you yourself didn't have chicken pox as a child. You can't catch shingles - you must have had CP as a child and the virus remains dormant in the nerve endings until something reactivates it and then you develop shingles. BUT, technically you can catch CP from someone with shingles though it is pretty difficult - you have to have contact with the fluid in the blisters. In shingles you tend not to shed virus in sneezes and coughs as you do with CP.

    As for the shingles vaccine - it really isn't an ideal step for patients with PMR/GCA as you are on pred and the vaccine is a live one. It is also associated with the adverse effect of PMR. And the vaccine itself can cause shingles. Merck themselves include this in the data sheet.

  • Thanks For the info and advice.

  • Sorry I am unable to advise! I have noticed on the Facebook Giant Cell Arteritis / Temporal Arteritis group that a number of people have spoken negatively on the anti jabs for both chicken pox and shingles, so personally I am not going to seek any jabs, and whilst the advice is to steer clear of people with both conditions the reality is there is no way of telling what is passing around in crowds we are all subject too! Football matches, church, motorway service areas, restaurants etc etc !

  • See my post above...

You may also like...