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Experimental Vaccine for Shingles Provides Hope for Sufferers


Shingles, a painful nerve infection, affects millions of people around the world each year. But now, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, there is hope. An experimental vaccine may help avoid getting the disease.

Shingles, is a viral infection of the nerve and skin, that is a painful and sometimes debilitating infection. The same virus that causes chicken pox in children, and is sometimes referred to as "chicken pox, the second time around".

Carl Bozeman had shingles on his upper chest. "The pain was burning. It was very deep," he said. "I thought I was having a heart attack to be quite honest. It was that intense, it was that painful."

But now, shingles could take it's place in history. The National Institutes of Health, The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Merck Company have joined together to test an experimental vaccine.

The shingles rash normally comes and goes in a few days, but the pain and burning can last for months or in some extreme cases even years. Two-and-a-half years later Mr. Bozeman, still suffering, describes the pain, "Sometimes it's shooting, it's deep. It's much more intense. But it's always there. It never leaves. I'm always aware of it."

Any individual that has had chicken pox is at risk for shingles. Although most people only have chicken pox once, the virus always remains in nerve cells and can reemerge 50 to 60 years later in the form of shingles.

Now, however, for the first time a vaccine could prevent that. The vaccine's three-year trials have shown great promise. Over half of the more than 38,000 patients injected with the vaccine had their risk of developing shingles disappear. While nearly two-thirds of those who got the disease had their pain and discomfort reduced.

Though the vaccine is not yet available. Dr. Donald Gilden of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center believes there is a large potential market for it.

"Anybody who is otherwise healthy, who is over the age of 50, should be vaccinated," he said.

Until now, anti-viral medicines and painkillers have been the only hope for those with shingles. Now, there might be a chance to prevent it all together.

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