According to the Canadian Press, Health Canada yesterday announced the approval of a vaccine against shingles for people age 60 and older. The vaccine, called Zostavax and manufactured by Merck Frosst Canada, will be available later this year (the cost is to be determined). Research into Zostavax has found that it reduces the occurrence of shingles by about 50 percent in people age 60 and older.
The painful shingles rash is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same one that causes chicken pox. It remains latent in the body after chicken pox infection and can reemerge to cause shingles, for reasons that aren’t completely understood. People who have a suppressed immune system are particularly at risk, and the potential for reactivation of the virus increases with age. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada website, 15 to 20 percent of people who have had chicken pox will experience a reactivation later in life.
Public health officials also say that there’s some evidence that shingles are on the rise in North America. The new vaccine may help reverse this trend.
This announcement follows a recent endorsement of the vaccine by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued a recommendation that a single dose of the vaccine be given to people in the same age group (60+) in May 2008. As yet, there’s no indication that the vaccine will be rolled out to younger adults.