With Karin Bauer it started a week after her second Covid vaccination. At first there were only four to five red spots and blisters on the side of the stomach. Then the spots spread towards the navel and back. It got really uncomfortable when the pimples started to itch. And to burn if she touched the region. Because she also felt tired and feverish, she went to the doctor. Herpes zoster was the diagnosis, the therapy was ointment and antiviral tablets. A month later the last stain was gone.
Bauer, whose real name is different but doesn’t want to appear in the newspaper with her real name, is 51 years old. This is actually a very young age for the occurrence of herpes zoster, as experts call the disease. Most people with such problems are in their 60s. The vaccination to protect against the disease is only recommended by the Stiko from this age.
When the blisters appear in younger people, it is usually in those whose immune system can no longer defend itself properly, for example due to cancer. The reason: the disease is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This usually enters the body in childhood, which manifests itself as chickenpox. The virus is then kept in check by the immune cells and settles in nerve cells. There it falls into a kind of hibernation. If the immune system is later weakened by medication or aging processes, this gives the pathogen the chance to break out and cause the shingles symptoms along the nerve tracts. Provided he is awakened from his deep sleep by stress or some other signal.
The herpes zoster patients vaccinated against Covid are on average 46 years old
Karin Bauer is not an isolated case. The dermatologist Esther Freeman from Harvard Medical School noticed at the beginning of the year: Since the start of the Covid vaccination campaign, a striking number of young herpes zoster patients have been appearing in the practices. The average age of vaccinated victims is 46, which is significantly lower than that of people who shy away from injections, has it in the trade journal Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology reported.
Other scientists also expressed their suspicionsthat the vaccination against Corona can sometimes trigger shingles. A study in September last year provided the most convincing evidence in the trade journal New England Journal of Medicine. When analyzing the medical records of almost 900,000 compatriots, the Israeli scientists had calculated: Among 100,000 vaccinated people, about 16 must reckon with the occurrence of herpes zoster.
However, other studies did not find such an accumulation of herpes zoster cases. The latest all clear comes from scientists at the University of California and was published on Wednesday afternoon. The ophthalmologist Nisha Acharya and her team have evaluated how often people see a doctor in the first month after the Covid vaccination with herpes zoster. No more frequently than the average American, is the result of the analysis of treatment data from around two million US citizens. The German Paul Ehrlich Institute also found no signs of such a side effect in its own analysis, but left a question for details unanswered at the time of going to press.
“I don’t think there is a causal connection between vaccination and herpes zoster,” says Hartmut Hengel after reading Nisha Acharya’s work. He heads the consultant laboratory for varicella-zoster viruses at the Institute for Virology at the University Hospital Freiburg. Even the molecular biologist Henri-Jacques Delecluse, who studies herpes viruses at the German Cancer Research Center, does not believe that vaccination can weaken the immune system to such an extent that it is then no longer able to keep varicella zoster in check. If there were such a vaccination side effect, the symptoms should actually be much more pronounced, he says. Because in people with severe immune problems, much larger areas of skin are usually affected than in classic shingles, sometimes even the mucous membranes of the mouth or organs.
Theoretically conceivable: The syringe could wake up the virus
But herpes zoster, says Delecluse, can also occur in people with a completely healthy immune system. Because sometimes the waking stimulus alone is enough for the virus to cause these symptoms. And theoretically, a Covid vaccination can also represent that. The vaccine stimulates the immune cells, among other things, via so-called toll-like receptors. And according to the researcher, these are directly involved in the activation of varicella-zoster viruses. The study situation on the potential vaccine side effect of herpes zoster is still contradictory, but it can already be said: “If there is such a connection, the problem will certainly be very rare.”
This hypothesis is supported by the observation that a real corona infection also occurs to promote shingles seems. It is reassuring: If the immune system is intact, the symptoms are usually weak in both cases. This should in no way prevent you from seeing a doctor with the corresponding symptoms. Because shingles can be treated very well in the early stages. In addition, early therapy reduces the risk of long-term complications.