Doctors say they have come up with a vaccine that can reduce both the incidence and the severity of shingles by more than half.
The development of the vaccine, which is still at the experimental stage, could spare hundreds of thousands of elderly Americans from an extremely painful disease.
The effectiveness of the vaccine against shingles, a skin and nerve infection, was proven in an unusually large clinical trial involving more than 38,500 people over the age of 60, the group most at risk of the infection.
Dr.Michael Oxman, leader of the study, says they saw a major reduction in the overall burden of the illness of shingles.
Drug manufacturer Merck developed the vaccine and have already applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval.
Dr. Jeffrey Silber, project leader at Merck, says the shingles vaccine will be the first new vaccine for adults since the approval 30 years ago of a vaccine for an infection of the lungs, pneumococcal pneumonia.
Shingles is caused by the exact same virus that causes chickenpox, varicella-zoster, which is not eradicated from the body when a person recovers from chickenpox, but instead lies dormant in the nervous system and can be reactivated, and the shingles vaccine is a more potent version of the chickenpox vaccine given to children.
The report is published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.