Just before Christmas a few years ago, Richard DiCarlo, MD, woke up in the night with burning pain on his left side. Turning on a light, he saw a row of red bumps and knew immediately that he had shingles, also known as zoster, caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus, dormant since a childhood infection.
After shingles and a year of postherpetic neuralgia, a painful condition that made it difficult to sleep, DiCarlo, an infectious disease specialist at Louisiana State University in New Orleans, counts himself among the supporters of the shingles vaccine. The shingles vaccine Zostavax was licensed in the U.S. in 2006. Data from the Shingles Prevention Trial, which enrolled 38,000 adults aged 60 and over, showed that men and women who got the shingles vaccine were half as likely to get the ailment after an average follow-up period of three years compared to those given a placebo shot. Vaccinated study participants who did develop shingles also had reduced pain compared to participants given a placebo shot. The vaccine was most effective in people ages 60-69 with increased decline in effectiveness associated with older age.