Ongoing Study Provides Hope for Shingles Prevention
WebMD News Archive
"It's neuralgic pain," says Oxman, who is also professor of medicine
and pathology at the University of California, San Diego. "So it's not like
a broken leg or a burn, which you can relieve with painkillers. This is pain
that's actually generated in the nervous system, and it doesn't respond very
well to any methods of controlling pain. It's a major cause of
There are many options to relieve or inhibit pain in shingles sufferers, but
none of them are routinely effective. They include antiviral drugs, which are
often effective at lessening the duration of shingles if taken soon after an
outbreak. "Antiviral drugs only stop further virus multiplication. They
don't make a dead nerve cell come to life. So the earlier you get diagnosed and
treated, the more likely it is to have some impact," Oxman tells WebMD.
Although no agreement has been reached on the appropriate management of
shingles, steroids have been tried, as have antidepressants, anticonvulsants,
and topical agents such as the anesthetic lidocaine, which has recently become
available in patch form. For some, the lidocaine is effective at helping with
the chronic pain, but as Oxman points out, it's hard to put it over your eye.
About 15% of shingles sufferers are affected in that area, sometimes to the
point of blindness. Perkin, whose mother had shingles, said she described the
feeling as "having an icepick through your eye."
Other methods such as electrical stimulation and acupuncture are used, and
in severe cases surgery is an option. But once the shingles awaken and come
down to the skin, "the horse is out of the barn," Oxman says.
Prevention is the key. Unfortunately, none of these approaches has been proven
to prevent shingles.
The VA study "is an attempt to see if we can prevent shingles with a
vaccine, and it's based on very compelling circumstantial evidence," Oxman
tells WebMD. He and his colleagues are trying to enroll 37,000 people at 21 VA
sites nationwide. So far, they've enrolled just over 6,000 people but are
actively seeking more to reach their goal.