The drug tofacitinib (Xeljanz), used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and ulcerative colitis, has been known to increase the risk of shingles, or herpes zoster. Now recent research suggests the risk of developing shingles is twofold in tofacitinib users who also take a glucocorticoid (also known as cortisone) for rheumatoid arthritis.
Tofacitinib belongs to a relatively new class of drugs called Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, which inhibit immune sites that cause inflammation. Glucocorticoids, such as prednisone, triamcinolone, and dexamethasone, belong to a drug class known as corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation.
What you should do
If you haven’t already been vaccinated against shingles, talk with your doctor about getting the vaccine.
This article first appeared in the April 2020 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.
Also see Shingrix: A Sight-Saving Vaccine.