Had Chickenpox? – Great News for Seniors

By Peggy Peck
Medpage Today Senior Editor


English: A child with a case of shingles in th...

English: A child with a case of shingles in the C8/T1 dermatone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Medical journals had a mixed bag of reports this week, highlighted by big news about a common and painful disease of aging — shingles.

Everyone who had chickenpox as a child is at risk of shingles in old age because both diseases come from the same herpes virus, which hides out in the body’s central nervous system long after its initial appearance as chickenpox. As age or illness weaken the body’s immune system the virus awakens from hibernation, this time as herpes zoster, better known as shingles, a condition that causes a blistering rash that is often followed by extreme pain called postherpetic neuralgia.

Shingles affects about 1 million Americans every year, but researchers say that a super-potent version of the chickenpox vaccine can not only prevent shingles outbreaks but can lessen the severity if the disease does flare despite the vaccine.

The researchers tested the vaccine in more than 19,000 volunteers, age 60 or older. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers reported that the vaccine reduced the incidence of shingles by more than 51 percent and reduced the incidence of painful shingle side effects by 66 percent, compared with 19,000 volunteers who were given a dummy vaccine.

But while the experimental vaccine is effective, the researchers said it is unlikely that the regular-strength chickenpox vaccine can be used to prevent shingles. So shingles prevention must await FDA approval of the experimental vaccine.