There is exciting news concerning a vaccine’s success against a common and extremely painful disease--herpes zoster, or shingles.  The condition affects approximately one million americans each year.


“All of a sudden I get this pain in my leg.   Then I went to the VA here, they saw the rash on the buttocks.”  Richard Dahlia knows all too well the pain of shingles.  “I would say it’s excruciating pain you can’t get rid of no matter what you do.”


More than half of all people who get shingles are older than 60, and the most common complication: pain due to what's called post-herpetic neuralgia, severe discomfort in the area of the rash after it's disappeared.


But new research in the latests New England Journal of Medicine shows that an experimental vaccine against herpes zoster can work to prevent this viral illness and it's associated pain..


The study found the vaccine, when given to those 60 and older reduced the chances of getting shingles by more than fifty percent, and reducing the chances of getting post herpetic neuralgia by 2/3rds.  In those who did get shingles, the vaccine reduced the pain severity and the length of the illness was reduced by more than 60 percent compared to those getting a dummy placebo vaccine.


Dr. Michael Simberkoff, principal investigator of the study at the VA NY Harbor site, says, “We were very impressed with the results they were as good, in fact, as good as we hoped in our wildest dreams.”  As a result, the vaccine is going up for FDA approval soon. 


It has very few significant side effects according to the study.  It did cause some redness, pain or swelling at the injection site in about a third of the study subjects, but nothing worse than that.


Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is caused by the chicken pox virus.  After a person gets chicken pox, the virus doesn’t leave the body. Instead, it remains dormant in the nerves’ roots in the spine.  Years later, the virus gets reactivated, either by stress, or simply because of old age.  It causes a rash along the path of the nerve where it was residing.  And because it’s in a nerve, it causes pain.  But that pain is cut or eliminated by the vaccine.


"Clearly those who are 60 years of age and older benefited from the vaccine, and it's possible that younger adults would also benefit," says Dr. Simberkoff.


And as the baby boomers approach their 7th decade, the vaccine could be an invaluable public health tool.  Just ask Richard.  “I had it once I don’t want to get it again,” he says.



For more information on the herpes zoster vaccine and the disease, go to