Deeper into Jeopardy! XLI: Vaccines – $1200

Jeopardy! category: VACCINES (30-3-2015)

$1200 clue: A weakened chickenpox virus is used in a vaccine to prevent this painful condition, especially people over 60

Correct response

The gist: Technically, it would be just as accurate to say that its own virus is used in the vaccine. That’s because both chickenpox and shingles are caused by the Varizella Zoster Virus, or VZV – it just gives the former to kids and the latter to adults (most of the time). Once you recover from chickenpox, the virus doesn’t actually go away. It hangs around dormant in nerve tissue in your spine and brain, generally never causing any trouble. If it decides to flair up again, however, it can travel along the body’s axons and re-infect the skin, more severely than it had when it was just chickenpox. Shingles typically causes general unwellness like headaches and fever, but is characterized by large, painful rashes, usually on the torso. After a few days the rashes develop into blisters, which scab over and fall off, sometimes leaving marks on the skin. If the rashes happen to develop in unfortunate places, like near the eyes or ears, the disease can cause further complications. The disease usually occurs in older people; typical age-related weakening of the immune system, which normally keeps the dormant virus in check, may account for this, although the reasons are not fully understood.

The shingles vaccine is a recent development, having been licensed by the FDA in just 2006. It works by injecting attenuated versions of the VZV, prompting the development of antibodies to fight it. While not completely effective, it greatly reduces the chances of developing shingles in individuals who previously have had chickenpox – which, in the U.S., is about 99% of the population. It is also effective in preventing development of shingles-related disorders, and reduces severity and duration of the disease if it occurs. In the U.S. and E.U., it’s recommended for eligible adults over 60 years of age.

An electron micrograph of the VZV

The clue: Two bits of information in this clue: it’s related to chickenpox, and it’s a disease associated with the elderly. I don’t think either of those is enough to get the correct response on their own – there are other diseases related to chickenpox, and there are certainly other diseases associated with the elderly – but together this is more or less a straightforward clue.

In Jeopardy!: “Shingles” appears in 15 clues in the J!Archive… but six of those are about the roof type of shingles. Of the remaining nine, eight of them mention chickenpox, so that’s really what you need to know about it. Beyond that, three mention the typical rash, and two mention the vaccine, but those are nowhere near as important.

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