Shingles vaccine Zostavax offers protection for older adults

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Shingles vaccine Zostavax offers protection for older adults

An FDA panel licenses the shingles vaccine Zostavax for adults age 60 and older.

What happened?Older adults have new hope for preventing shingles (herpes zoster), a viral infection that causes a painful, blistering rash.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has licensed a new vaccine (Zostavax) to help prevent shingles in adults age 60 and older. In one study involving thousands of participants, the shingles vaccine reduced the overall risk of shingles by about 50 percent for adults age 60 and older. For adults ages 60 to 69, the vaccine reduced the risk of shingles by 64 percent. For those who developed shingles despite vaccination, the illness was slightly less severe.

The shingles vaccine is given as a single injection, preferably in the upper arm. The most common side effects are redness, pain and swelling at the injection site, itching and headache. Supplies of the vaccine are ready to be shipped immediately.

Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you've had chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in your nerves. Years later, the virus may reactivate and cause shingles.

Although the painful rash may last only a few weeks, sometimes shingles can lead to a debilitating complication called postherpetic neuralgia. This condition — most common in older adults — causes the skin to remain painful and sensitive to touch for months or even years after the rash clears up.

What does this mean to you? Shingles affects an estimated two in 10 people in their lifetime. The shingles vaccine can help prevent this common illness — and potentially the chronic pain of postherpetic neuralgia, particularly for older adults. If you're age 60 or older, ask your doctor whether you should receive the shingles vaccine.

Last Updated: 05/26/2006
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