Vaccine reduces shingles rate among elderly

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Many seniors may soon be scratching and suffering less, thanks to a new shingles vaccine.

The Oka/Merck VZV vaccine decreases the occurrence rate and severity of shingles among older adults, and the pain that accompanies it, according to a report from the Shingles Prevention Study Group. Shingles occurs when a latent chickenpox virus is reactivated. It primarily affects older people, with about half developing complications according to last Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Michael N. Oxman, at the VA San Diego Healthcare System, and colleagues tested the vaccine in 38,546 adults aged 60 and older. They took the vaccine or a placebo between 1998 and 2001 and were followed until April 2004.

After an average of three years, 315 cases occurred in the vaccine group and 642 in the placebo group. The vaccine also improved the severity of the illness, with an average duration of pain and discomfort of 21 days versus 24 days.

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