Vaccines

What can I take to ease shingles pain?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've been diagnosed with shingles. What can I take for the pain?

DEAR READER: Shingles, also known as herpes zoster or just zoster, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once you have had chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus remains in your body's nerve tissues. It is inactive, but it can be reactivated later in life. This causes shingles.

Could you discuss the new approach to vaccines that could supposedly revolution immunization?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I heard on television about a possible new vaccine against HIV, Ebola and other terrible viruses. That sounds like very good news, or is it just hype?

DEAR READER: You may well have heard about a new approach to creating vaccines. The approach is called "passive immunization with neutralizing antibodies." It could revolutionize immunization against Ebola and other viruses, including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) and influenza (flu) viruses.

Does my son need to get the HPV vaccine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend says that my young son should get the vaccine that protects girls against cervical cancer. That doesn't seem to make sense. Can you explain?

DEAR READER: Your friend is right, and here's why. The vaccine is against a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). There are more than 100 strains of HPV; about 40 of these strains can be transmitted by sexual contact. So-called low-risk strains cause genital warts. High-risk strains can cause cancers of the cervix, anus, penis and throat. I'll call these the HPV-related cancers. Not all of these cancers are caused only by HPV, but the virus is an important cause of each. Most cases of cervical cancer in women in the United States are caused by HPV.

Will a pertussis booster shot for me help protect my grandkids from whooping cough?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My son says that if I get a booster shot for pertussis, it will help protect his kids from getting whooping cough. That seems far-fetched to me.

DEAR READER: It's not far-fetched. Even if you were immunized against pertussis (the bacteria that cause whooping cough) as a child, you may need a booster shot. Why? Because pertussis is highly contagious, and without a booster shot you are at some risk for getting it. And if you get it, you could pass it on to your grandkids.

Should I get a flu vaccine this year even if last year’s vaccine didn’t prevent me from getting the flu?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I got the flu vaccine last year and still got the flu. Should I even bother with the flu vaccine this late?

DEAR READER: Yes, you should, but don't expect perfect protection this year, any more than you should have last year. Vaccines contain fragments of three or four strains that are predicted to dominate during the coming flu season. Different strains of the virus circulate each flu season (October-May).

Why should my child get the flu shot every year?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I know my child is supposed to get a flu shot each year. But how much good does it really do, and is it safe?

DEAR READER: Every fall and winter, parents face the question: Should my child get an influenza (flu) shot? Many parents ask the same question that you do. There are several important reasons why children older than 6 months should get a flu shot every year: Influenza can be dangerous to even healthy children. You can't catch the flu from the flu shot. The flu shot is safe. The flu shot protects more than your child.

Does the high-dose flu shot protect better than a regular flu shot?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I've heard that there is a high-dose flu shot. Does it protect better than a regular flu shot? Should I ask my doctor about it?

DEAR READER: The high-dose flu vaccine, known as Fluzone, is approved for adults ages 65 and older. It may provide better flu protection for older adults than the standard flu vaccine, which is less effective in older adults than in younger adults. Both the high-dose and standard flu vaccines target three different strains of the flu virus, selected from the most common strains predicted to be circulating that year.

I’m a healthy 55-year-old man. Should I get the shingles vaccine?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a healthy 55-year-old man. Should I get the shingles vaccine? And while you're at it, what exactly is shingles?

DEAR READER: Shingles is a condition that results in a rash and pain. It is caused by the same virus (called VZV) that causes chickenpox. After a case of chickenpox, the virus can lie dormant inside your nerves for decades. By "dormant," I mean that it is not multiplying -- it just lies there inside the nerve cells.

It is safe to have the pertussis vaccine while pregnant?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I am pregnant. My doctor wants me to have a pertussis vaccine. Why? And is this safe?

DEAR READER: 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 bacteria spread through droplets that move through the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks. Pertussis can occur at any age, but serious illness is most common in infants and young children.