Stroke risk was 50% higher in the month after patients with autoimmune diseases developed herpes zoster, compared with the next 2-6 years, according to Dr. Leonard H. Calabrese.
“These data provide urgency for developing strategies to reduce the risk of varicella zoster virus in vulnerable immunosuppressed patients,” said Dr. Calabrese of the department of rheumatic and immunologic diseases at the Cleveland Clinic.
Immunosuppressive therapies increase the frequency and complexity of herpes zoster, which is a known risk factor for stroke. To examine the temporal relationship between herpes zoster and stroke among immunosuppressed patients, Dr. Calabrese and his associates studied Medicare data for almost 51,000 patients with new-onset herpes zoster who also had physician-diagnosed ankylosing spondylitis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers excluded patients with a history of stroke.
In the multivariable analysis, stroke was 1.5 times more likely during the 6 months immediately after herpes zoster than in the 2-6 years after herpes zoster (95% confidence interval, 1.06-2.12). During this 6-month window, there were 9.8 strokes per 1,000 person-years, compared with 8.7 per 1,000 person-years in the 2-6 years after herpes zoster. Stroke risk also remained somewhat elevated during the entire year after herpes zoster (incidence rate ratio, 1.3; 95% CI, 1.05-1.61).
In general, stroke was more likely to occur among patients who were older, were receiving high-dose glucocorticoids, or had diabetes, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, or a history of transient ischemic attack, he said at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in San Francisco.
Dr. Calabrese disclosed relationships with Bristol-Myers Squibb, Crescendo, AbbVie, Genentech, Biogen, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis Pharmaceutical, and Johnson & Johnson. Two coauthors also disclosed relationships with several pharmaceutical companies. The other four coinvestigators had no disclosures.