INTRODUCTION: Antarctica is a useful analog for spaceflight, as both environments are remote, isolated, and with limited resources. While previous studies have demonstrated increased asymptomatic viral shedding in both the Antarctic and spaceflight environments, clinical manifestations of reactivated viral disease have been less frequently identified. We sought to identify the incidence of clinical herpes zoster from viral reactivation in the Antarctic winter-over population. METHODS: Medical records from the 2014 winter season were reviewed for the incidence of zoster in U.S. Antarctic personnel and then compared to the age-matched U.S. population. RESULTS: Five cases of clinical herpes zoster occurred in the Antarctic Station population of 204 persons, for an incidence of 33.3 per 1000 person-years vs. 3.2 per 1000 person-years in the general population. Four cases were in persons under age 40, yielding an incidence of 106.7 per 1000 person-years in persons ages 30-39 compared to an incidence of 2.0 per 1000 person-years in the same U.S. age group. DISCUSSION: Immune suppression due to the stressful Antarctic environment may have contributed to the increased incidence of herpes zoster in U.S. Antarctic personnel during the winter of 2014. Working and living in isolated, confined, and extreme environments can cause immune suppression, reactivating latent viruses and increasing viral shedding and symptomatic disease. Such changes have been observed in other austere environments, including spaceflight, suggesting that clinical manifestations of viral reactivation may be seen in future spaceflight.
- Herpes zoster
- Viral reactivation
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Medicine (miscellaneous)
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health