Vaccine hope for elderly shingles patients

Shingles, caused by the reactivation of the virus that causes chickenpox, is common in older people.
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An experimental vaccine for shingles is 90% effective in people over 70, according to a clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Herpes zoster is caused by the same virus that is responsible for chickenpox – varicella zoster. After contraction of chickenpox, this virus sits in the nerve cells of the body. Sometimes it reactivates and causes shingles – a skin rash typified by pain and blistering which usually subsides after the rash has cleared.

But sometimes the pain does not go away when the rash does. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia and can last months or years.

A trial gave nearly 15,000 participants – average age 75.6 years – across 18 countries either the vaccine or a placebo in two doses, three months apart. They were then monitored for three years.

There were 223 confirmed cases of shingles. Only 23 of these were in the vaccinated group.

Lead researcher Tony Cunningham from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, says more trials will need to determine the efficacy of the vaccine beyond three years.

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Kate Goldberg is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts and Science at Monash University with majors in politics and genetics.
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