Shingles Vaccine Again?


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Ivanhoe Newswire) — The NIH estimates there are a million new cases of shingles in the United States every year. Shingles are chicken pox reactivated, and it can be painful, leave scars, and cause permanent damage. A new vaccine on the market since mid-December is causing a lot of excitement and some confusion among doctors and patients.

Fifty-seven-year-old Kathryn Wolf had a bad case of chicken pox as a child and has seen friends with bad cases of shingles as an adult. She got the old vaccine, but is getting the new one, too.

“I still wanted the vaccine because if there’s any way that I can help prevent getting shingles, I’m going to do it,” Kathryn shared.

University of Utah infectious disease chief doctor, Sankar Swaminathan, thinks it’s a good idea. Shingles can cause blisters, pain, and scarring and a condition called post herpetic neuralgia.

Dr. Swaminathan says, “What that means simply is pain, and this pain can last for months, and even indefinitely in people who have had a case of shingles. So they can have throbbing, splitting headaches that never go away.”

In November, the CDC Advisory Committee recommended a new vaccine for people over the age of 50, even if they had the old vaccine. At 280 dollars, doctors say the new Shingrix vaccine is expensive but worth it because it tests better.

“The efficacy is over 90 percent, in fact, over 95 percent in some cases for almost all age groups, even those over the age of 80, where it’s been tested,” explained Dr. Swaminathan.

It is made from a protein from the virus, not a live virus, like the old vaccine. Kathryn likes that, even though she has to get a second booster shot in a month or so.

Doctor Swaminathan says most people get redness or pain from the injection, and sometimes fever or fatigue for a day or so. The vaccine isn’t recommended for people with weakened immune systems yet, but Glaxo Smith Kline is now running trials that may make it possible for this high-risk population in the near future. That wasn’t possible with a live virus.

Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Jason Ball, Videographer.

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REPORT #2506


BACKGROUND: Shingles occurs in 20 percent of the general population and affects as many as one million Americans yearly. More than 1 in every 10 people who have had chicken pox as children will get shingles as adults. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster (chickenpox) virus. This virus lies dormant in the body near the spinal cord and the nerve ganglia until something, usually severe stress or a weakened immune system, reactivates it. Once reactivated, the virus travels along the nerve paths, destroying these paths as it goes, to the skin where it erupts into a rash. Before the rash erupts, the affected area may become flushed and sensitive to the touch and some may experience chills, fever, achiness, and pain. After a few days of this a band or patch of raised dots will appear on one side of the body, usually on one side of the trunk, abdomen, arms, legs or, less commonly on the face. In another few days, the spots will become painful fluid-filled blisters which will continue to appear for up to a week. These blisters may be accompanied by numbness, depression, tingling, shooting pains, fever, and headache. In two to five weeks, the blisters will dry out, crust over, and eventually fall off. A second attack of shingles is rare and may signal some other medical problem.


TO VACCINATE OR NOT?: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that healthy adults 50 years and older get two doses of the new shingles vaccine called Shingrix to prevent shingles and the complications from the disease. Two doses of Shingrix is more than 90 percent effective at preventing shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia, or extreme pain. Protection stays above 85 percent for at least the first four years after you get vaccinated. If you have had shingles in the past, you can get Shingrix to help prevent future occurrences of the disease. There is no specific length of time that you need to wait after having shingles before you can receive the vaccine, but generally you should make sure the shingles rash has gone away before getting vaccinated. You should not get Shingrix if you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine, have tested negative for immunity to the chickenpox virus, if you currently have shingles, or if you are currently pregnant or breastfeeding. If you had the previous vaccine, Zostavax, the CDC recommends to wait at least eight weeks before getting the new one.


NEW RESEARCH: Researchers affiliated with the University of São Paulo in Brazil have published a study in describing how the immune mechanisms triggered by the reactivated shingles virus change the way that sensory neurons work. Their discoveries lay a foundation for novel treatments not only to combat acute pain, but also to prevent it from becoming chronic, a condition known as post-herpetic neuralgia. “Some of our findings suggest that therapies capable of blocking the action of an inflammatory mediator called tumor necrosis factor (TNF), could act more selectively and might be more efficacious,” said Thiago Cunha, a professor at USP’s Ribeirão Preto Medical School and co-author of the article. Almost all adult humans carry the virus VZV, which usually lies dormant in the ganglia, or clusters of sensory neurons that project different parts of the body. An unexplained decrease in immunity leads to VZV reactivation in some people, causing inflammation of the ganglia. “Until the virus is transported along the nerves and skin lesions appear, which typically takes five to 10 days, the only symptom of shingles is nerve pain. This makes diagnosis difficult. A drug that does this modulation indirectly is already on the market and is mainly used as a muscle relaxant. It’s an alternative worth testing,” Cunha said.


* For More Information, Contact:

 Sankar Swaminathan, MD, (801) 581-8812     Julie Kiefer, (801) 587-1293