The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of Zostavax, an attenuated vaccine, for the prevention of shingles in individuals aged 50 to 59.

Zostavax, which is manufactured by Merck, was originally approved by the FDA for the prevention of shingles in individuals aged 60 years and older.

The approval was based on a multicentre study that involved approximately 22,000 people of 50-59 years of age, who were randomised to receive either Zostavax or placebo.

The participants were monitored for one year, and the study results revealed that Zostavax reduced the risk of developing shingles by approximately 70%, compared to placebo.

FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research director Karen Midthun said the availability of Zostavax to a younger age group provides an additional opportunity to prevent this often painful and debilitating disease.

Shingles, which is caused by varicella-zoster virus, is characterised by a rash of blisters. It affects approximately 200,000 healthy people between the ages of 50 and 59 in the US every year.