The varicella vaccine is almost 90 percent effective against chickenpox, but its impact on herpes zoster (shingles) is unknown and needs wider surveillance, Yale School of Medicine researchers write in todays New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) perspective section.
The varicella virus causes both chickenpox and herpes zoster, which occurs when a latent virus in the brain becomes reactivated and causes a painful rash on the skin, leading to severe pain and burning along nerves. Zoster affects people with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly. Since 1995, when the varicella vaccine was first introduced in the United States, it has greatly reduced the number of chickenpox cases and deaths from varicella. The vaccine may also have a key role in preventing zoster.
"Even though it has been shown that varicella vaccine has had a major impact on the epidemiology of chickenpox in the U.S., we do not know what impact, if any, the widespread use of varicella vaccine will have on the epidemiology of herpes zoster or shingles--its incidence, age distribution and severity," said Marietta Vazquez, M.D., an author on the article and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine.
Karen N. Peart | EurekAlert!
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