Vaccine sharply cuts rate of shingles: study

Tue Jan 11, 2011 10:07pm EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The herpes zoster vaccine could prevent tens of thousands of cases of shingles each year if it was offered to everyone who is eligible, with vaccinated adults half as likely to develop shingles, a study said.

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine against shingles -- a painful and potentially serious condition -- for adults over 60. The vaccine has been tested, but never under real-world conditions in regular doctors' offices.

The study, led by Hung Fu Tseng, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, compared about 75,000 vaccinated members of the Kaiser Permanente Health plan with about 225,000 similarly aged members who weren't vaccinated.

"We didn't know how well the vaccine actually performed in the community setting," Tseng told Reuters Health.

Shingles is a viral disease produced by the chicken pox virus, a common childhood disease, and is characterized by pain and a blistering rash along the nerves that have housed the dormant virus.

Most shingles patients are older adults, but people with a weak immune system or those under stress may also develop it.

Everyone in the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was at least 60 years old, and the researchers didn't include anybody for whom the live vaccine is not recommended.

Using electronic health records, researchers tracked patients for up to three years after vaccination.

About six out of every 1,000 people vaccinated got shingles each year, compared to 13 of every 1,000 unvaccinated patients. Researchers calculated that for every 71 people who were vaccinated, one case of shingles was prevented.   Continued...