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RA drugs "increase shingles risk"

A study has found popular treatments used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA) could increase the risk of the skin condition shingles.

Anti-TNF-alpha agents are artificial antibodies that prevent the immune system signals partly responsible for RA, but scientists have found patients prescribed the drugs are at a higher risk of shingles than the general population.

German researchers from the Rheumatism Research Centre in Berlin studied 5,000 patients receiving different forms of treatment and found there were 86 outbreaks of shingles among 82 patients. A total of 39 occurrences coincided with treatment with the anti-TNF-alpha agents adalimumab and infliximab.

Etanercept, a protein therapy, and conventional disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs were associated with 23 and 24 cases respectively.

The scientists found the the risk of shingles, which is caused by the chicken pox virus, Herpes zoster, almost doubled when patients were receiving anti-TNF-alpha agents.

Dr Anja Strangfeld states in the Journal of the American Medical Association: "Based on our data, we recommend careful monitoring of patients treated with monoclonal anti-TNF-alpha antibodies for early signs and symptoms of Herpes zoster."

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Journal of the American Medical Association