Friday, June 03, 2005

A vaccine against shingles on the horizon

Anybody who has had the chicken pox, or anybody who gets it later in life, can develop the more severe form called shingles, a re-emergence of the virus from nerve endings that is often painful to the point of debilitation. Now Merck has announced results of a new vaccine that may help prevent shingles outbreaks among the elderly (where they can be very common; they cite a statistic of half of all people over age 85!).
Besides reducing the disease in the vaccinated group, the vaccine cut the "burden of illness" from shingles by 61 percent and the risk of postherpetic neuralgia by 66 percent, the researchers reported. The vaccine was most effective in preventing shingles in people under 70, though it did the best job of reducing the severity of shingles in the oldest volunteers.
Apparently the shot is essentially a highly concentrated form of the chicken pox vaccine frequently given to children -- it's thought that the high dose helps boost the immune systems of elderly folks to keep the virus dormant. It won't replace the retrovirals that are used to combat outbreaks in progress, but it could help make them unnecessary in a lot of cases. Yay!

(via staff researcher RM)

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