People age 60 and older should be vaccinated against shingles, or herpes zoster, a condition often marked by debilitating chronic pain, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended today.
The CDC recommends a single dose of the zoster vaccine, Zostavax, for adults 60 years of age and older even if they have had a prior episode of shingles. The new full recommendation replaces a provisional recommendation that the CDC made in 2006, after the vaccine was licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended by the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a committee of immunization experts who advise CDC on immunization policy.
The recommendation was published in an early release electronic edition of CDC's Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report (MMWR) Recommendations and Reports. The ACIP recommendation becomes CDC policy once it is published in the MMWR.
Researchers found that, overall, in those ages 60 and above the vaccine reduced the occurrence of shingles by about 50 percent. For individuals ages 60-69 it reduced occurrence by 64 percent. The most common side effects in people who received Zostavax were redness, pain and tenderness, swelling at the site of injection, itching and headache.
About 25 percent of people are infected by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), during their lifetime. The virus causes the common childhood disease chickenpox and then becomes dormant within the nerves. If it reactivates later in life, the result can be shingles. Shingles is characterized by clusters of blisters, which develop on one side of the body and can cause severe pain that may last for weeks, months or years after the virus reappears. There are about one million cases of shingles per year.
Chickenpox (also called varicella) is usually mild, but it can be serious, especially in young infants and adults. Children who have never had chickenpox should get two doses of chickenpox vaccine starting at 12 months of age.
The risk of contracting shingles increases with age starting at around 50, and is highest in the elderly. Half of people living to age 85 have had or will get shingles. The risk of suffering chronic pain also increases with age.