Text size

The Health Ministry's advisory committee on infectious diseases recently made a recommendation to vaccinate adults in Israel against shingles (Herpes zoster), the virus that sits dormant in the body after an episode of chicken pox.

The recommendation comes following a prediction that cases of shingles in Israel will become more numerous because of the national program to vaccinate children against chicken pox, which went into effect in 2008.

The vaccine, Zostavax, was approved for use in the United States in 2006, and is part of the regular vaccination program in the United States, Canada and Australia for people over 60 years of age. The committee is to appoint a team to study the recommended age for vaccination in Israel. In Britain it is given only to people over 70, as it is believed to remain potent for seven years.

Shingles breaks out in adults from a virus that remains dormant in the body after a chicken pox infection, and often appears due to old age or a weakened immune system.

Research indicates that inoculating children against chicken pox will reduce outbreaks in the first years. Such outbreaks occurred every few years before the vaccination was available.

However, with large-scale inoculation, the Herpes zoster virus will remain dormant and could lead to larger outbreaks of shingles. In the United States and Japan, however, where the vaccination has been in use for some years, no increased incidence of shingles has been seen.

"Since the vaccination of children against chicken pox was initiated by the Health Ministry, it has the ethical and moral obligation to protect adults from the possible outcome of the inoculation of children, that is, increased incidence of shingles," advisory committee chairman Prof. Shmuel Rishpon said.

There is no data on shingles incidences in Israel, since it is not required to be reported. Among adults it is believed that 3 out of 100,000 people contract the shingles, a figure thought to rise, over the age of 70, to 10 in 1,000. Some 60 percent of people 90 and older contract the shingles.

Prof. Ron Dagan, head of the pediatric infectious disease unit at Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, says the virus spreads along nerves, and can cause intense pain that sometimes can only be eliminated by surgery to cut the base of the nerve.

Zostavax is not yet registered for use in Israel, but the Health Ministry said the importer intends to do so soon.