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Shingles Vaccine Could Make Senior Years Worry-Free

Posted June 17, 2005

— Many seniors live in dread of a painful condition called shingles. The VA hospital in Durham played a major role in a large clinical trial to test a shingles vaccine.

Oscar Lattier, 83, does not let many things slow him down, but four years ago, a case of Shingles made every move hurt.

"It was a blistery rash, just on [one] side," Lattier said.

It all began when Lattier had chicken pox as a child.

"We pick this virus up when we're young. It doesn't go away," said Dr. Ken Schmader, of Durham's VA Hospital. "It stays inside our body, inside nerve cells, and then years later, when our immune system is waning. The virus can come back out again to cause the shingles."

Schmader was a lead investigator of a large clinical trial for a shingles vaccine. It is similar to the childhood chicken pox vaccine, but 20 times more powerful. Half of the 38,000 study participants, 60 and older, got the shot.

"It worked extremely well, actually beyond our expectations. It reduced the incidence of shingles by 51 percent," Schmader said.

It lessened the severity of symptoms for most of the rest. The vaccine cannot help those who already have shingles. The pain can last for months or even years. Lattier wishes a vaccine could have helped him.

"This will be a wonderful thing for so many others to keep them from having to go through this kind of pain," Lattier said.

Age is the biggest risk factor for shingles, but if you have a compromised immune system, you can get it at any age. The vaccine is now in the Food and Drug Administration approval process, which could take nine to 12 months.


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