Are Shingles Autoimmune?

Shingles are a real pain in the neck…

or butt.. or face… or wherever they pop up.

Anyone who has experienced an outbreak of this chickenpox virus years after the initial infection never forget it.

It burns.
It stings.
Sometimes for years.

This ongoing nerve pain is called Post Herpetic Neuralgia.

We throw a variety of medications at it.  We put hope in vaccines to prevent it (that are not as great as advertised).  Why?

Why does a virus we have as a child return to haunt us decades later?

The conventional understanding says that the virus hides out in our nerve cells – sleeping – more or less.  For years, there are no symptoms, no rash, no pain, no anything.  Then, a weakened immune system from illness, medicines, or stress allows the virus to wake up.  The awakened beast follows the nerve arms out to the skin and give us a painful rash.

A study in the Journal of Translational Medicine sought and found auto-antibodies against human cytokines and other human antigens.

These antibodies were found in Post Herpetic Neuralgia patients, those who continued to experience pain after a shingles outbreak. They initiated the study based on other studies showed auto-antibodies to cytokines in other diseases.

The levels found in this series of patients appear high enough to interfere with Varicella virus immunity.  One patient had antibodies against IL-6 that was high enough to prevent antibody response to Varicella completely.  For the cytokine auto-antibodies, several were found to inactivate the cytokines.  By the nature of the study, it is not known where the antibodies were already present and predisposed the patient to developing Shingles or developed later.

While the impact of this research on clinical care of shingles or post herpetic neuralgia is not yet clear, the possibilities for understanding the interplay between immunity and infection are intriguing.

The line between infection and auto-immunity may not be as distinct as one would think.


**This post is for educational purposes only. In no way should any of the information discussed be taken as medical advice or guidance. Contact your doctor to learn how this applies to you. If you do not have a doctor and would like to learn about working with Dr. Potter, contact our office.**

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