In the U.S., 54 million people (23 percent of all adults) have arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a new study found these patients may have a new treatment option. As recent research published in Arthritis & Rheumatology revealed, the shingles vaccine could help treat the inflammatory condition.
Specifically, the live varicella-zoster vaccine showed promise when administered several weeks ahead of a patient starting tofacitinib, a drug for arthritis treatment. Researchers said the benefits could be twofold: Patients could see more success from their arthritis intervention, and the suggested benefits of the vaccine could lower their risk for shingles, which is higher for individuals with arthritis.
Given the CDC noted annual direct medical costs for arthritis amount to at least $81 billion, the possibility of another treatment option could yield financial benefits for patients in addition to improvements in quality of life.
What the findings revealed
The researchers gathered insights from two study groups to reach their conclusion. The first examined 112 patients who had active rheumatoid arthritis. These individuals received the vaccine, and then researchers administered tofacitinib to randomly selected participants.
The results revealed participants who received tofacitinib presented a fervent immune response to the vaccine - sometimes even better than those in the placebo group. Additionally, their immunity didn't suffer any negative effects.
"Participants who received tofacitinib presented a fervent immune response to the vaccine."
The second study, which stemmed from 19 clinical trials with a cumulative 6,192 patients, looked at shingles risk as it relates concomitant use of corticosteroids or conventional synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and tofacitinib. This analysis revealed patients could see a lower risk of shingles and better arthritis management.
What the results could mean
Dr. Kevin Winthrop of Oregon Health and Science University, one of the researchers, noted the study findings present health care providers with a means to lower steroid use in arthritis treatment. These drugs typically work for short-term issues.
However, not all physicians believe the long-term gains are worthwhile. Plus, the drugs have harmful side effects, which can include weight gain, mood disruptions, higher blood pressure, and infection vulnerability. With tofacitinib, patients could avoid these and other side effects while keeping a healthy immune response to steer clear of other health issues.
"If you want to lower shingles risk for rheumatoid arthritis patients, there are two strategies: one is vaccinating them and the other is getting them off steroids and methotrexate if you can," Winthrop said in a press release.
While the researchers note this treatment option isn't viable for arthritis patients who've never had chicken pox, it could be a saving grace for a large part of the 54 million Americans with the condition in the future.