JOURNAL ARTICLE

Risk of skin and soft tissue infections (including shingles) in patients exposed to anti-tumour necrosis factor therapy: results from the British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register

James B Galloway, Louise K Mercer, Alison Moseley, William G Dixon, Andrew P Ustianowski, Matthew Helbert, Kath D Watson, Mark Lunt, Kimme L Hyrich, Deborah Pm Symmons
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases 2013, 72 (2): 229-34
22532633

INTRODUCTION: Anti-tumour necrosis factor (TNF) therapy is a mainstay of treatment in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In 2001, BSRBR was established to evaluate the safety of these agents. This paper addresses the safety of anti-TNF therapy in RA with specific reference to serious skin and soft tissue infections (SSSI) and shingles.

METHODS: A cohort of anti-TNF-treated patients was recruited alongside a comparator group with active RA treated with non-biological disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (nbDMARD). 11 881 anti-TNF and 3673 nbDMARD patients were analysed. Follow-up was by 6-monthly questionnaires to patients and clinicians. Analyses considered SSSI and shingles separately. Incidence rates (IR) were calculated and then compared using survival analyses.

RESULTS: The crude IR for SSSI were: anti-TNF 1.6/100 patient-years (95% CI 1.4 to 1.8); nbDMARD 0.7/100 patient-years (95% CI 0.5 to 1.0) and shingles: anti-TNF 1.6/100 patient-years (95% CI 1.3 to 2.0); nbDMARD 0.8/100 patient-years (95% CI 0.6 to 1.1). Adjusted HR were SSSI 1.4 (95% CI 0.9 to 2.4), shingles 1.8 (95% CI 1.2 to 2.8). For SSSI, no significant differences were seen between anti-TNF agents. For shingles, the lowest risk was observed for adalimumab (adjusted HR vs nbDMARD) 1.5 (95% CI 1.1 to 2.0) and highest for infliximab (HR 2.2; 95% CI 1.4 to 3.4)).

CONCLUSION: A significantly increased risk of shingles was observed in the anti-TNF-treated cohort. The risk of SSSI tended towards being greater with anti-TNF treatment but was not statistically significant. As with any observational dataset cause and effect cannot be established with certainty as residual confounding may remain. This finding would support the evaluation of zoster vaccination in this population.

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