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April 22, 2016

None of the children with herpes zoster had serious illness requiring hospitalization. Another recent study in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal (December, 2009) found that children receiving varicella vaccine are much less likely to develop herpes zoster than those with natural chickenpox and that, when the condition does occur, it is less severe.

The lower risk in black children is consistent with previous studies showing that rates of herpes zoster are lower in black than white adults. Those studies suggested several possible explanations for the lower risk of shingles in black adults, such as more infections or increased exposure to people with chickenpox.

However, none of these would account for a reduced risk of shingles in black children. Racial differences in access to health care are also unlikely in this case, since all of the children in the study were enrolled in an insurance plan providing equal access to care.

Having eliminated these possibilities, Dr. Tseng and co-authors believe that a genetic explanation is most likely. "The lower risk of herpes zoster found in both black children and adults suggests the potential of an underlying genetic factor that modifies the risk of VZV reactivation," they write. Further studies to understand the reasons for this racial difference could also lend important clues as to how VZV becomes reactivated to cause herpes zoster.

Source: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins