Magazine article Science News

Vaccine Gains: Shot Protects Seniors from Shingles Flare-Ups

Magazine article Science News

Vaccine Gains: Shot Protects Seniors from Shingles Flare-Ups

Article excerpt

A new vaccine has prevented half the cases of shingles in elderly people participating in a trial. When the painful disease did appear, it was generally less severe and cleared up faster than it did in study participants who got an inert shot.

The findings could pave the way for regulatory approval of the experimental vaccine. "I wouldn't hesitate to give it to anyone over 60," says study coauthor Michael N. Oxman, a virologist at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System and the University of California, San Diego. People with compromised immunity might have to receive smaller vaccine doses than those given in the experiment, says Oxman, who himself received the shot in a preliminary test of the vaccine.

For the moment, the vaccine is called the live attenuated Oka/Merck VZV by its maker, Merck & Co. of Whitehouse Station, N.J.

Shingles is the old-age aftershock of chicken pox. Both diseases arise from a single virus, varicella-zoster. Children who contract the virus routinely recover from chicken pox but harbor the virus in their nervous systems. In adulthood, for reasons still unclear, the virus can awaken as shingles, also called herpes zoster.

Symptoms of shingles include a rash on the face or trunk accompanied by a combination of numbness, itching, and pain that can last months

or longer. Antiviral treatments can offer some relief.

In the study, doctors at 22 medical centers enrolled more than 38,000 people over age 59, randomly assigning half to receive the vaccine and half to get a placebo. …

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