Is There a Herpes Vaccine For Shingles?

The herpes vaccine was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration as an effective method of preventing shingles (herpes zoster) in adults over the age of 60. The pharmaceutical company Merck developed the vaccine and presented it to the FDA for approval. It was officially accepted by the FDA as a marketable drug in May of 2006.

The vaccine is called Zostavax, and it successfully prevents the older population who already carry the latent herpes virus in their bodies from becoming infected by shingles. It will not heal or cure the shingles if it is administered after the disease has already been contracted. The herpes zoster vaccine is also an effective preventative for post-hermetic neuralgia.

The speicific viral infection that causes shingles is known as varicella. When a person is initially infected with the varicella zoster virus, chicken pox are produced. It then lays dormant in the body until it reemerges as shingles later on. It has been determined that the reemergence occurs as a result of a decline in the body's immunity to the virus. The herpes zoster vaccine is effective in preventing shingles in that it reestablishes immunity to the varicella zoster virus prior to the immunity declining enough to allow the virus to reemerge.

Zostavax is a weakened version of the varicella zoster virus which was originally obtained from a child who had the virus naturally occurring within him or her. This live strain, which is now used in the production of the herpes vaccine, was introduced to a variety of cell cultures and then finally tested at the Merck laboratory, where it was found to be free of any harmful elements.

Tests done in order to prove the validity of the Zostavax herpes vaccine included a study of roughly 20,000 people over the age of sixty who participated in a double blind study involving placebos and Zostavax. It proved to prevent both shingles, and post-hermetic neuralgia in over half of the people infected with the virus. While the most positively affected group were those aged 60-69, some positive affects of the herpes zoster vaccine were observed in all of the age groups tested.

Some side effects were reported as having occurred as a result of being injected with the herpes vaccine. These side effects were generally minimal, as the most common reported merely claimed that itchiness, pain, redness, and swelling occurred in and around the area where the vaccine was injected.

In addition to the effects of the vaccine on the injection site, 1.4% of those involved in the study reported headaches occurring as a result of the vaccination. No emerging of the varicella zoster virus as a result of the vaccine injection post-injection were reported, although researchers have concluded that in rare circumstances, it should not be ruled out that there is a possibility that it may occur.

If you are interested in learning more about the herpes vaccine, talk to your doctor or other health care provider.