Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingAn experimental vaccine may prevent a painful reminder of a childhood illness. More than a million Americans come down with shingles every year. Some will suffer long-term excruciating pain because of it. Now, an investigational vaccine may help prevent it.
When you get chicken pox as a child, the rash may go away, but the virus stays in your body forever. The virus can resurface later in life and cause a painful skin rash called shingles. The pain can be so intense some victims can not stand to wear clothing or even feel the air on the skin.
CBS talk show host David Letterman was off the air five weeks due to shingles. Martin Cotton was sick for three days.
Martin Cotton, Former Shingles Patient: “At its worst it felt like someone had maybe taken and maybe lit a match, and trying to burn me across my skin.”
And to make matters worse, shingles can leave many people with chronic pain for months, even years, long after the rash disappears. And this pain is hard to treat.
Anyone who's had chickenpox is at risk, but shingles is most common in older people. So the department of veterans affairs tested an experimental vaccine on nearly forty thousand healthy men and women over the age of sixty. They found participants who got the vaccine had half the case of shingles as those who got a placebo injection. They also had less severe pain when they did get an infection, and there was a sixty-seven percent drop in cases of long term chronic pain.
Michael N. Oxman, M.D., Lead Researcher: “In the long term, persisting nerve pain, which is the most troublesome and severe complication of shingles, was reduced by two-thirds.”
The vaccine is a more potent version of the chicken pox vaccine currently given to children. The manufacturer has applied to the FDA to consider putting it on the market.
And if you think you're not at risk for shingles, think again. Most people who don't remember ever having chickenpox actually have been exposed and have the virus lying dormant in their body.