Thursday, June 02, 2005

Experimental Shingles Vaccine Proves Effective in Nationwide Study

Stronger version of chickenpox vaccine cuts incidence and severity of shingles in older adults

Zostavax™, Merck's Investigational Shingles Vaccine, Reduced the Incidence, Severity and Duration of Shingles Pain in a New Study Published in The New England Journal of Medicine

For the many transplant recipients who have had shingles, or who are potential candidates for developing shingles because they had chickenpox earlier in life and are now immune suppressed, this is wonderful news. I experienced shingles just a few months after my lung transplant and the resulting pain (post-herpetic neuralgia) was the most debilitating and discomforting sickness I ever had. At no time pre or post transplant did I have pain that severe and I hope never to experience it again. You can believe that I will try to get this new vaccination as soon as it is available. Merv.

In one of the largest adult vaccine clinical trials ever, researchers have found that an experimental vaccine against shingles (zoster vaccine) prevented about half of cases of shingles—a painful nerve and skin infection—and dramatically reduced its severity and complications in vaccinated persons who got the disease. The findings appear in the June 2 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

The Shingles Prevention Study, conducted over 5 ½-years, was led by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and carried out in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Merck & Co., Inc. (Whitehouse Station, NJ).

“This is very promising news for older persons,” says Stephen E. Straus, M.D., an infectious diseases specialist at NIAID and Director of the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, who participated in the design, oversight and conduct of the trial. “These striking results indicate for the first time that we can use a vaccine to prevent shingles, one of the most common and debilitating illnesses of aging. And among vaccine recipients who did get shingles, the episodes generally were far milder than they otherwise would have been.”

“For some people, shingles can result in months or even years of misery,” comments study leader Michael N. Oxman, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at the San Diego VA Healthcare System and the University of California, San Diego.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox. Once chickenpox infection has run its course, the virus is not eliminated; rather, it retreats to clusters of sensory nerve cells usually located near the spinal cord, where the virus persists in a dormant state. As immunity weakens with advancing age, the virus can reactivate, multiply in and damage sensory nerve cells to cause pain. It then migrates to the skin, causing the blistering rash of shingles.

Generally, shingles first manifests as pain, itching or tingling in an area of skin on one side of the body or face. Then a painful blistering rash develops in that same area of skin; the rash can take two to four weeks to heal.

Anyone who has had chickenpox—which includes most adults in the United States—could develop shingles, though not all will. The two major risk factors are increasing age and declining immunity. Half of all people who live to age 85 will get the disease. Experts estimate more than a million new cases of shingles occur in the United States each year.

Read the full NIAID release:
Shingles Vaccine

See Merck"s release:

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