Prevention of shingles by varicella zoster virus vaccination

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Herpes zoster is caused by reactivation from previous varicella zoster virus (VZV) infection, and affects millions of people worldwide. It primarily affects older adults and those with immune system dysfunction, most likely as a result of reduced or lost VZV-specific cell-mediated immunity. Complications include post-herpetic neuralgia, a potentially debilitating and chronic pain syndrome. Current treatment of herpes zoster and post-herpetic neuralgia involves antiviral agents and analgesics, and is associated with significant economic cost. Results from several clinical trials have determined that a live, attenuated VZV vaccine using the Oka/Merck strain (Zostavax™) is safe, elevates VZV-specific cell-mediated immunity, and significantly reduces the incidence of herpes zoster and post-herpetic neuralgia in people over 60 years of age. Regulatory approval has recently been obtained and once launched, it is expected that this vaccine will significantly reduce the morbidity and financial costs associated with herpes zoster. Durability of vaccine response and possible booster vaccination will still need to be determined.

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