Vaccines

Is there a treatment or vaccine being created for Ebola?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Like everyone, I'm afraid that the Ebola virus could spread in the United States. There must be research underway to find treatments, and vaccines to prevent it in the first place. Please tell me there is.

DEAR READER: Infection with the Ebola virus is indeed frightening. In West Africa, the site of the latest outbreak of Ebola, more than half the people who have become infected with it have died. I doubt there will be an epidemic of Ebola in the U.S. and other developed nations, but there have been cases, and there will be more.

Is there evidence the HPV vaccine has real benefits?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My daughter's pediatrician would like her to have the HPV vaccine. I'm not sure. Is there evidence the HPV vaccine has some real benefit?

DEAR READER: Yes, there is evidence -- overwhelming evidence. And with this vaccine, the benefit is not that it will reduce the risk of a short-lived illness, like the flu. This vaccine will reduce your daughter's risk of getting a common and life-threatening cancer. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer and genital warts

Who should NOT get the shingles vaccine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: You've written about who should get the shingles vaccine, and why. Are there any groups of people who should not get the shingles vaccine?

DEAR READER: I'm glad you asked because, yes, there are groups of people who should not get the vaccine. Shingles is a painful skin rash, often with blisters, that lasts from two to four weeks. Its main symptom is pain, which can be quite severe. For some people, the severe pain of shingles continues long after the rash clears up. Called post-herpetic neuralgia, this condition can last for months, or even years. It can be quite debilitating.

Do I need the shingles vaccine if I’ve already had shingles?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've already had shingles. Do I still need to get a shingles vaccine?

DEAR READER: Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once you have had chickenpox, the skin changes of chickenpox go away, but the virus that caused it remains alive inside your nerves. It is inactive, but it can be reactivated later in life. This causes shingles.

Do I need to get the shingles vaccine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have never had chickenpox. Do I still need to get a shingles vaccine?

DEAR READER: Not everyone knows the connection between chickenpox (a childhood disease) and shingles (a condition that usually hits adults). So let's begin with that. Chickenpox and shingles are both caused by the same virus: varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Once you have had chickenpox, VZV remains in your body's nerve tissues for the rest of your life, alive but inactive.

Should I get vaccinated against whooping cough?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My daughter wants me to get a booster shot for pertussis. She says it will help protect her young kids against whooping cough. Is this true?

DEAR READER: Your daughter is right. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes violent coughing. The coughing makes it hard to breathe and produces a deep "whooping" sound. Pertussis can occur at any age, but infants and young children are most likely to become seriously ill from the infection.

Are flu shots safe for children?

DEAR DOCTOR K: Does my child really need a flu shot? How do I know it's safe?

DEAR READER: Every fall and winter, parents face the question: Should my child get an influenza (flu) shot? Many parents worry about risks and side effects, and if the shot is really necessary or worthwhile.

Why do I need a tetanus booster shot?

DEAR DOCTOR K: What is tetanus? And why do I need a tetanus booster shot?

DEAR READER: When I graduated from medical school, I assumed I would never see a patient suffering from tetanus. It had become unusual since tetanus immunization became available. But it didn't take long for me to see my first case.

Follow-up questions on shingles vaccine

Readers have sent me many follow-up questions after my recent shingles vaccine column. It's great to see your interest, and I wanted to answer the most common follow-up questions I received.

To recap, shingles is caused by the reactivation of the virus that also causes chickenpox, varicella-zoster. Most people are infected with this virus in childhood and remain infected for the rest of their lives.

Should boys be vaccinated against HPV?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I know it's recommended that young girls get vaccinated against HPV, since this virus can cause cervical cancer. What about boys? At one time I read it was not recommended for them, but recently I heard that this had changed. Has it changed, and why?

DEAR READER: You're right. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has recently recommended that boys also get the HPV vaccine.