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Environ Health Perspect. 1999 Oct;107(10):835-41.

Environmental chemical exposures and risk of herpes zoster.

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Department of Epidemiology, University of Ulm, Ulm, Germany.


This study investigated whether residence in Aberdeen, North Carolina, the location of the Aberdeen pesticides dumps site (a national priority list Superfund site containing organochlorine pesticides, volatile organic compounds, and metals), is associated with immune suppression as indicated by a higher incidence of herpes zoster and recent occurrences of other common infectious diseases. Study participants included 1,642 residents, 18-64 years of age, who responded to a telephone survey concerning potential occupational and recreational exposures to pesticides and other chemicals, lifetime history of herpes zoster (shingles), and the recent occurrence of other common infectious diseases. Stratified and logistic regression analyses were used to compare the cumulative incidence of herpes zoster among Aberdeen residents and residents of nearby communities. There was little evidence of an overall increased risk of herpes zoster among Aberdeen residents during the period 1951-1994 [relative risk (RR), 1.3; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.8-2.1]. However, an elevated risk of herpes zoster was noted consistently among Aberdeen residents of younger ages as compared to residents of the nearby communities. The RR was 2.0 (CI, 1.0-4.0) among those 18-40 years of age and was not affected by controlling for potential confounders. The RR of herpes zoster was also consistently elevated in all age groups for the period before 1985. No differences were noted between residents of Aberdeen and those of the nearby communities with respect to the recent occurrence of other common infectious diseases. These results support the plausibility of an association between exposure to the Aberdeen pesticides dumps site and immune suppression and the potential use of herpes zoster as a marker of immune suppression in studies of environmental chemical exposures.

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