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Approved research

Association between serum vitamin D deficiency and the risk of herpes zoster: a longitudinal UK Biobank study

Principal Investigator: Mr Liang-yu Lin
Approved Research ID: 51265
Approval date: September 13th 2019

Lay summary

When our immune system does not work well, we are more vulnerable to getting infections, such as chickenpox and shingles. This virus that causes chickenpox causes lifelong infections, and it cannot be removed. When the virus that causes chickenpox reactivates in adults shingles develops. A common symptom of shingles is a painful skin rash. Some shingles patients may suffer from long-term nerve pain, which will significantly decrease their quality of life. The treatment for pain symptoms is not very effective, and it increases health spending. Therefore, it is important to study what cause shingles, and to find new ways to prevent it. Vitamin D is produced by the skin after sun exposure, and it is regarded to be an essential element to bone health. Public Health England advises taking vitamin D supplements every day. Recent studies suggest vitamin D has some effect on immunity, and it might help to prevent viral infections. However, we do not know whether vitamin D levels affect the chance of getting shingles. Furthermore, vitamin D levels are not routinely measured and recorded in patients' GP records. It is very difficult to study vitamin D by using GP records, unless we can find another way of findings low vitamin D levels. We aim to: 1. To describe how many people in the UK are deficient in vitamin D; 2. To investigate whether vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of shingles; 3. To find ways of identifying vitamin D deficiency in GP records using UK Biobank data linked to GP records. Understanding the proportion of people with vitamin D deficiency in the UK population will help the public health department to develop guidance about vitamin supplementation. If we find that vitamin D deficiencies increase the risk of shingles, this will inform future research into shingles prevention. Furthermore, our work will also help other researchers to use electronic medical records to study vitamin D.