Shingles or Herpes Zoster is a disease which people over the age of 60 or having prolonged illnesses will be painfully aware of. The usual symptom is a very painful rash which usually develops on one side of the body along the nerves that carry the Herpes Zoster virus.
Herpes Zoster originates from the Herpes virus, which is the cause of the common childhood disease chickenpox. After a bout of chickenpox, the Herpes virus still remains in a child's body albeit in a dormant state. However as age progresses and as the immunity system becomes weaker and weaker, the Herpes Zoster virus might overcome the immunity system and cause shingles. This is the most common reason as to why shingles is prevalent in adults over 60 or having prolonged illnesses that tend to waken their immunity.
The Herpes vaccine has been approved only recently by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent the occurrence of shingles in adults over 60. This vaccine, named Zostavax, was developed by pharmaceutical company Merck and it has existed as a marketable drug since May 2006 after the FDA approved it.
Zostavax prevent the older population, who already carry the latent Herpes Zoster virus, from being infected by shingles. However, this vaccine is only effective when it is administered before the illness. It can not heal shingles once it is contracted, only prevent it. Zostavax is also effective in preventing the contraction of post-hermetic neuralgia.
This vaccine is actually a weakened form of varicella zoster virus, which is generally obtained from children who have this virus occurring naturally in their bodies. This virus has been tested at the Merck laboratory and it has been found out that it possesses no harmful substances.
Tests have been done to prove the effectiveness of the Zostavax vaccine. Over 20,000 adults over 60 were tested in a double blind test where they were provided with placebos and Zostavax. It was found out that the Herpes vaccine prevented the contraction of shingles and post neuralgia in more than half of the people tested, who had been infected by these viruses. The most positive result was found to be in the age group between 60 and 69 though this vaccine showed some positive effects in all age groups.
Like most of the drugs, this too is not without side effects. However, these side effects are minimal. The most common side effects are itchiness, pain, swelling etc. in the region where the vaccine is injected. But these side effect are temporary and therefore not a cause of worry.
Headache is another side effect in addition to inflammation in the injected area. But these headaches have occurred in less than 2 percent of the people who have been injected with this vaccine. There might be a very rare chance of emergence of the varicella zoster virus, although no such emergence has been reported till date.
Overall, Zostavax is an effective vaccine against shingles. However, it is best to consult a physician or a doctor about its usage.