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Shingles Vaccine 2012: Ample Supply, Plus TV Commercials


Last year, older Americans were told that the shingles vaccine was effective at cutting their risk of getting the painful red rash caused by the chicken pox virus. The only problem: A paltry supply meant few people could get the shot.

This year, there's not only ample supply, there are now TV ads urging people 60 and older to get the vaccine, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Drug company Merck, which makes the Zostavax vaccine, has begun running TV ads about the painful skin and nerve condition caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox.

Once you've had chicken pox, the virus, called herpes zoster, lies dormant in the spinal cord's nerve roots and can flare up during times of stress or illness when we're older.

Shingles typically starts with a small patch of red, bumpy rash that is extremely painful. 

shingles rash

If left untreated, the rash can spread, causing long-lasting pain and nerve damage, especially among those in their 80s. And, unfortunately, you can get shingles more than once.

The new television commercials stress getting the vaccine -- without mentioning the drug by name -- and that those who have had chicken pox are at risk for getting shingles.

The commercials aren't targeted at people in their 50s, even though the FDA has approved use of the vaccine by that age group. A recent Merck-funded  study found that Zostavax reduced outbreaks of the disease in people age 50 to 59 by nearly 70 percent compared with a control group who took a placebo.

A study last year of 300,000 adults age 60 and older found that the shingles vaccine cuts the risk of getting the disease and can prevent some of its more dangerous side effects, including damage to the eye.

In other health news:

Yellowfin tuna product tied to salmonella outbreak. A frozen raw yellowfin tuna product from a California-based company is likely responsible for an outbreak of salmonella across 20 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced. A total of 116 people have been infected with salmonella, including 12 who were hospitalized. Many had eaten the raw, ground tuna in spicy tuna sushi, CNN reported.

Patients should be given choices in colon cancer screening. A new study suggests that offering patients at risk for colon cancer more choices might help increase the rate of testing for the disease. Those who were told the pros and cons of colonoscopy, as well as the less invasive fecal occult blood test, opted more often to be screened than those who were only told about colonoscopy, according to the New York Times.

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