Varicella virus epidemiology in MS

I have been invited to take part in another research study. Thought i would tell you about it.

Any thoughts anyone?

'In this study, we aim to determine the frequency of previous exposure to the varicella zoster virus (VZV), in terms of primary infection (chickenpox) and virus reactivation (shingles) in people with MS. Many people are exposed to VZV, usually in childhood. VZV causes chickenpox, which is usually a mild infectious disease. After chickenpox, the virus remains in the body, in the nervous system in an active state; but can be reactivated, causing shingles, a rash limited to one part of the skin that can be painful. Rarely the reactivation can be more widespread and the infection more serious, in particular in people whose immune system is suppressed.

The immunity to VZV is checked measuring antibodies to VZV in blood. It is estimated that at least 80% of the population has antibodies to VZV, indicating previous exposure. In MS shingles due to VZV reactivation may cause unpleasant symptoms on top of the symptoms related to the MS disease itself, and thus it is important to assass the risk of people with MS getting shingles. At present this risk is unknown.

The treatments of MS are directed at modifying the immune system and thus it is important to determine whether these treatments modify the risk of shingles, or of chickenpox in those (probably rare people) who do not have a history of exposure and/or a negative antibody titre’

'The information we get from this study will help determine the frequency of VZV exposure in people with ms. If the study shows you are not immune to VZV we may recommend VZV vaccination depending on circumstances.

Also to determine how the VZV immunity correlates with other immune responses, tests of immunity to other antigens that have been associated with ms or with immune responses against relevent viruses and bacteria will be performed. For eg, immunity to tetanus and helicobacter is thought to be protective in ms while Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) is thought to play a role in ms.

A small part of the blood we obtain will be used for getting DNA to look for a gene varient of a lymphocyte receptor (TNFR1 R92Q) that is more common in ms than the general population and gives stronger immune responses, to see if people with this gene varient also have stronger immunity to VZV. We will not test for other genes.

Final results for publication in 3 years.

Thought this may be of interest to some people on here.

Best wishes


Very interesting Teresa. Although I’d had minor symptoms for years (which I ignored!) my first MS symptoms that I couldn’t ignore came with a bout of shingles on one side of my face and head. Fatigue kicked in big-time and has never left me since!

Fascinating and thanks for posting,

Pat x

Hello Teresa,

I had one of these questionnaires too. I think that I just had the standard viruses, but so far (touch wood) I haven’t had shingles, which sounds awful.

Best wishes,


Thats really interesting. I suffered from shingles in 2003 and then about 3 months later suffered from a bout of depression and headaches/pins and needles. I had another similar bout in 2005 and then left sided paraesthesia in 2008 when MS was diagnosed. I have often wondered whether the MS was triggered by or exzacerbated by me having shingles!



Hmmm. Chickenpox… I got this really, really, bad at the age of 20. For me, I think this was the ‘trigger’ to start the MS as 5 years later tiny symptoms began to appear and then behold the official “you have MS in 2002.” Genes and chickenpox ‘trigger’ I think is the cause of MS … for me. If the Neuros tell me we know what has started it in your case in 20 years time. I can say, “Told you that 40years ago!”

I don’t know…


I was 20 when i was really I’ll with chickenpox . Following that I developed chorea better know as st virus dance.the Neuro said he had never known it happen before.I still think its was my first big relapse. Sorry but typed this on the kindle!!!


This is so interesting as you know so many of us have suffered with shingles either prior to diagnosis of ms or since. l had my first bout of shingles a year before l was diagnosed and since then have had two more bouts of it. ln fact, l don’t think it actually goes a way completely. Shingles is a horrid illness - very painful and debilitating. Glandular Fever was considered to be a pre-cursor to ms- like shingles/vertigo.

So we shall all be very interested in the outcome of this.


i didnt have chickenpox as a child despite both of my sisters having it.

i got a weird rash when i was about 23 and the gp said it was shingles but it wasnt painful.

strange to link things up to me getting ms.

i had bells palsy twice, once when i was 17 and again when i was 40.

now that one really does seem like ms!

what the heck is all this (my strange medical history) about?

carole x

I had chicken pox twice as a kid. I remember playing dot to dot both times. Never had a repeat of them in any form since getting ms.

I always thought it might be related to me having measles at the age of 1. Messing my immune system up but who knows? yet!


Thankyou for your thoughts/experiences everyone.

I have had chickenpox as a child but to my knowledge i have not had shingles. I have however had a few strange allergy type rashes in the past that can’t be explained.