Study Explores Risk for Shingles in the Current Era

February 19, 2015

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In Cases of Weakened Immunity

In people with HIV and other immunological disorders, both chickenpox and shingles can take longer to clear, up to four weeks in some cases. What’s more, shingles can recur in such people.

Treatment of shingles can include the antiviral drugs valacyclovir or famciclovir. These drugs can speed the healing of lesions and sometimes cause a reduction in pain and the risk for post-herpetic neuralgia.

Although vaccines are licensed to reduce the risk of developing chickenpox and shingles, they contain weakened but live virus. People with HIV infection (or parents of children with HIV) should consult an infectious disease or HIV specialist about whether it is safe for them (or their children) to receive these vaccines. If someone with a weak immune system is in contact with a person infected with chickenpox, it is important that they contact their health care provider to find out if they need treatment to prevent developing chickenpox themselves.


Two candidate shingles vaccines are being tested for possible use in people with immunological disorders. These vaccines are:

  • a heat-treated vaccine -- this contains virus that has been treated with heat so that it cannot cause infection. However, it can stimulate immunity to VZV. This vaccine is being developed by Merck.
  • a subunit vaccine -- this contains a protein from VZV that is coupled with a protein derived from bacteria. The purpose of the bacterial protein is to stimulate the immune system when it is exposed to the protein from VZV, amplifying the immune response to VZV. Neither the protein from VZV nor the protein from bacteria can cause infections. This vaccine is being developed by GlaxoSmithKline.

Preliminary results from clinical trials of both of these vaccines suggest that they are safe and cause immunity to VZV.



About chickenpox

About the chickenpox vaccine

About shingles

About the shingles vaccine


We thank infectious disease specialist Jason Brophy, MD, for his helpful comments, expert review and research assistance.


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  4. Mary-Krause M, Grabar S, Lièvre L et al. Cohort Profile: French hospital database on HIV (FHDH-ANRS CO4). International Journal of Epidemiology. 2014 Oct;43(5):1425-36.
  5. Berkowitz EM, Moyle G, Stellbrink HJ, et al. Safety and immunogenicity of an adjuvanted herpes zoster subunit candidate vaccine in HIV-infected adults: A phase 1/2a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Journal of Infectious Diseases. 2015; in press.
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This article was provided by Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange. It is a part of the publication CATIE News. Visit CATIE's Web site to find out more about their activities, publications and services.

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