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Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 23:05 GMT 00:05 UK
Child vaccine 'could beat shingles'
rash
Shingles is more than a simple chickenpox rash
Painful shingles infections could be prevented if vulnerable patients were given a vaccine aimed at children, experts have said.

Shingles is the adult version of chickenpox, and erupts in people with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, and cancer patients.

It happens because the body finds it difficult to completely eradicate a chickenpox infection.

Even though the patient has no symptoms, the virus can persist for decades, "hiding" in nerve cells.

A healthy immune system means that it will never cause illness again - but if immune defences fall, then the virus can strike.

Unfortunately, the illness is much more severe in adults than in children, causing an excruciatingly painful rash and shooting pain that can take years to disappear fully.

A team of researchers at Stanford University Medical Center in the US decided to try to help those at particular risk of an outbreak.

They used a vaccine containing inactivated chickenpox viruses - the same type of jab used to prevent the disease in children.

Drop in cases

This was tested on lymphoma patients about to undergo a bone marrow transplant - a third of whom are likely, without treatment, to go on to develop the illness.

Only 13% of the 53 patients who received four doses of vaccine went on to develop shingles, compared with 30% of a group of patients who did not get vaccinated.

One dose was given just before chemotherapy designed to wipe out the immune system - the fact that it worked suggests that some traces of immune response must remain.

Dr Ann Arvin, from Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, where the experiment was carried out, said: "We would suggest from our data that the same pre-transplant vaccination strategy would work to protect these patients against other viruses and bacteria.

"The idea that they are so immunocompromised that you can't benefit these patients by vaccination during the early stage of the transplant is incorrect."

See also:

01 May 02 | Health
09 Nov 01 | Briefing
09 Nov 01 | Health
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