On June 17, researchers at NIAID will launch an important next step in a study of an experimental vaccine to prevent shingles (also known as herpes zoster, or just "zoster"). In the so-called Phase III trial, the team will study the vaccine's safety and how well it works to prevent the disease.
Dr. Philip Brunell, an internationally renowned pediatrician and expert on the chickenpox virus, will officially open the trial by rolling up his sleeve to become the first person to be immunized with the experimental vaccine. The NIAID study will test a more potent version of the vaccine used to immunize children against the chickenpox virus. Earlier studies have shown the study vaccine to be safe and well tolerated.
At 68, Dr. Brunell believes strongly in the new vaccine's potential. "After almost 40 years of studying varicella-zoster virus," he said, "it is exciting for me to now be involved in testing this vaccine. Zoster, or shingles, is a very significant concern for those of us over 60, as the chance of getting it increases and the condition is often more severe as we grow older."
Shingles is a major health problem in older adults. Any individual has a 20 percent chance of developing it during his or her lifetime. Of the hundreds of thousands of people in the United States who will be diagnosed with shingles this year, most will be over age 60.
Shingles is caused by the same virus, varicella-zoster (VZV), that causes
chickenpox. After a person has had chickenpox, VZV remains in the nerve cells
by the spinal cord for life but is usually dormant. If it becomes reactivated,
however, it can cause shingles. Early symptoms may include an outbreak of rash
or blisters - usually on one side of the body or face - burning, tingling or
shooting pain. Although skin symptoms may heal within weeks, the pain (called
post-herpetic neuralgia) can be intense, severely debilitating and last for
years. Other serious complications, such as blindness or
Contact: Ellen O'Donnell
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases