Shingles Vaccine Debate

October 14, 2009 5:44:23 PM PDT
It's a condition that sends many Americans to the doctor every year. The same virus that causes chickenpox sometimes resurfaces later in life to become a blistering, painful rash called shingles. The FDA recently approved a vaccine for the condition, but some doctors think its too early to add it to the yearly check-up. Fresh out of dental school, Mark Offenback thought it was just stress when a rash appeared on his side.

"We realized it was shingles when the blisters stopped at my sternum and stopped at my spine on the other side," Offenback told Ivanhoe.

82-year-old Bill Jones is still suffering the effects of a case of shingles he contracted last November.

"There's still sensitivity," Jones told Ivanhoe.

About 1 million people develop shingles every year, and half of those cases occur in people over 60.

The CDC recently issued a recommendation that all patients over 60 receive the newly-developed shingles vaccine. In a study, it reduced the risk of shingles by about half and the risk of lingering nerve pain by 67-percent.

"If the shingles vaccine was used to its full potential, it would prevent half of all shingles disease altogether," Michael Muszynski, M.D., a professor of clinical sciences at Florida State University College of Medicine's Orlando, Fla. Regional Campus, told Ivanhoe.

However, insurance coverage of the vaccine is far from universal, and although research suggests it lasts up to six years, doctors don't yet know if a booster dose is needed.

"We don't know after four years, what happens," Archana Shah, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Winter Park Memorial Hospital in Winter Park, Fla., told Ivanhoe. "We need more trials. We need more time."

"I think the shingles vaccine has been underutilized," Dr. Muszynski said. "The risk-benefit ratio of the shingles vaccine is overwhelmingly in favor of giving the vaccine."

Until everyone is onboard, a conversation with your doctor is the best place to start.

The vaccine was FDA-approved in 2006 and is covered by some insurance companies for those over 60 but not for younger patients. It costs about $150-$300 per patient.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Michael J. Muszynski, M.D.
Florida State University College of Medicine
Orlando, FL Regional Campus
(407) 835-4103
Michael.muszynski@med.fsu.edu

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