Although patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have a disproportionately higher incidence of herpes zoster (shingles), an analysis that included nearly 60,000 patients with RA and other inflammatory diseases found that those who initiated anti-tumor necrosis factor therapies were not at higher risk of herpes zoster compared with patients who initiated nonbiologic treatment regimens, according to a study appearing in the March 6 issue of JAMA.
"For patients with rheumatoid arthritis, the risk of herpes zoster is elevated an additional 2- to 3-fold. The contribution of widely used biologic immunosuppressive therapy to this increased risk is not well understood. These therapies, including tumor necrosis factor (TNF) antagonists, are commonly used to treat RA and a variety of other immune-mediated inflammatory diseases and have clearly been associated with an increased risk of tuberculosis and other opportunistic infections," according to background information in the article. "It is unclear whether anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) therapy elevates herpes zoster risk."
Kevin L. Winthrop, M.D., M.P.H., of Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Ore., and colleagues conducted a study to determine whether initiation of anti-TNF therapy compared with non-biologic comparators is associated with increased herpes zoster risk. The researchers identified new users of anti-TNF therapy among groups of patients with RA, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, or ankylosing spondylitis from 1998 through 2007 within a large U.S. multi-institutional collaboration. The authors compared herpes zoster incidence between new anti-TNF users (n = 33,324) and patients initiating nonbiologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) (n = 25,742) within each inflammatory disease cohort (last participant follow-up December 31, 2007).