Archive for the ‘Vaccines’ Category

A Brief Overview of COVID-19 Testing

January 18th, 2021

As the number of COVID-19 cases in this country continues to surge, there has been a rush of Americans seeking to get tested for the coronavirus that causes it. If you’re considering testing but are confused about the various types of tests and what they do and when to get them, here’s a brief overview that might help.

The first thing you need to understand is that there are different types of tests that are used at different times. Certain tests are used to detect if you are currently infected with SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and there are different tests that can determine if you’ve already had the virus.

If you want to know if you are currently infected, there are two types of tests: molecular tests and antigen tests. Molecular tests are typically performed using nasal swabs or throat swabs, but some test saliva or another bodily fluid. Molecular tests look for genetic material that can only come from the virus, which will be present if you are infected.

Antigen tests, which are done using nasal or throat swabs, identify antigens from the virus. Antigens are protein fragments that initiate an allergic response in the body. Antigen tests are more likely to miss an active COVID-19 infection compared to molecular tests. It may be recommended that you get a molecular test if your antigen test is negative but you have COVID-19 symptoms, which include cough, shortness of breath and fever.

You can get these tests from your doctor or state or local health department. Most states have set up testing centers throughout the community to provide easy access for residents. Many centers offer the rapid COVID-19 test, which is an antigen test that provides results the same day as opposed to the 3-5 day wait time for most nasal swab tests. The FDA has also approved a COVID-19 home testing kit.

On the other hand, antibody tests look for antibodies to the virus in your blood, which may indicate that you’ve previously been infected by the coronavirus. Antibodies are proteins made by the immune system that help fight foreign invaders such as viruses. They may help ward off future attacks by the viruses and keep you from getting the diseases they cause a second time.

Unfortunately, researchers are uncertain about how much immunity antibodies to the coronavirus provide against getting COVID-19 again. Research suggests that coronavirus antibody levels may wane over just a few months. Confirmed and suspected cases of reinfection have been reported, but remain rare. Researchers are working to better understand this phenomenon.

Antibody tests are not a good way to determine if you are currently infected with the coronavirus because it can take 1-3 weeks after infection for your body to make antibodies. You may test negative but have an infection in its early stages. Further, you can test positive for antibodies even if you had an asymptomatic infection.

Antibody tests are available through your doctor or a verified laboratory. Typically, results are available within a few days.

The tests for COVID-19 are new and it’s unclear how accurate they really are because there are no “gold standard” tests to compare them to. In addition, these tests were made available by Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA. Under an EUA, the makers were permitted to market the tests even though they didn’t receive formal approval due to a public health emergency.

Studies show that the rate of false negative results with molecular tests vary depending on how long the infection has been present but ranged from 20 percent when testing was performed five days after symptoms began to up to 100 percent when testing was done earlier in the infection. False negatives are more common with antigen tests, which is why they are not favored by the FDA as a single-use test for active infection.

The reported rate of false negatives with antibody tests ranges from 0 to 30 percent depending on the research study and when in the course of the infection the test was done. Having an antibody test too soon after infection can lead to false negative results.

Most people who develop COVID-19 have a relatively mild form of the disease and don’t need any special treatment or hospitalization. In addition to symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, they may also experience a sore throat and tiredness that may last one to two weeks. Other people who are infected may be asymptomatic.

But for some people, COVID-19 is a severe illness that requires hospitalization, sometimes in an intensive care or special COVID unit. The risk for this is higher for people who are older and have chronic health conditions such as diabetes.

Whether you test positive or negative for the coronavirus, take steps to protect yourself and others. Wash your hands often, avoid close contact with others, cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others, cover coughs and sneezes, clean and disinfect, and monitor your health daily. And follow CDC guidelines if symptoms develop.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It

July 5th, 2020

Most of the news we’ve been reading about COVID-19 lately seems to be bad news: New cases are spiking across the country. Hospital ICUs are filling to capacity with seriously ill patients. And experts are warning of escalating infection rates in the coming months.

But if you look a little closer, you can find some tidbits of good news as well. Here’s one story I came across recently that gave me hope. On July 1, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its partner the German biotech company BioNTech announced that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine has shown promising results in early testing.

The initial clinical data from the study revealed that volunteers who took low or medium doses of the vaccine in two injections about a month apart developed immune responses to the virus in the range expected to be protective.1 In fact, their immune defenses were stronger than those of the average recovered COVID-19 patient.

The study involved 45 healthy volunteers. Twelve received a 10 microgram dose of the vaccine, 12 received a 30 microgram dose, 12 received 100 micrograms and nine received a placebo. The main side effects were fever and injection site soreness. The 100 microgram dose caused fevers in half of patients receiving it, so a second dose was not given to those patients.

Pfizer’s experimental vaccine generated antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and some of those antibodies were neutralizing. That means these antibodies may prevent the virus from functioning.

The level of neutralizing antibodies in the study volunteers were 1.8 to 2.8 times that found in recovered COVID-19 patients, but researchers aren’t sure yet if higher antibody levels lead to virus immunity. Pfizer is planning large-scale studies to prove that people getting their vaccine are 50 percent less like to become infected. Those studies are set to begin this summer.

For its vaccine, Pfizer used specific genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA. This mRNA contains directions for making a certain protein used by the virus to invade human cells. The mRNA is taken up by the body’s cells, which then follow the directions and make the protein. The body’s immune system recognizes the protein as foreign and make antibodies to disable it if the virus tries to invade.

The vaccine in this study is one of four candidate vaccines being developed by Pfizer. The company reported that additional information from this particular trial will help it to pick a leading candidate and dose level for a much larger study. Based on the initial trial results, BioNTech and Pfizer hope to progress to a larger US trial involving 30,000 participants.

Pfizer notes that if its vaccine proves safe and effective, and is approved, it expects to make up to 100 million dose by the end of 2020 and “potentially more than 1.2 billion doses by the end of 2021.”

The good news is there. But you might have to look beyond the front page.

COVID-19: An Update

February 14th, 2020

The spread of the novel coronavirus, recently named COVID-19, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, continues to dominate the news, and with good reason. As of Tuesday, February 11, the death toll from this virus topped 1,100.

(Krysten I. Houk/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services via AP, File)

FILE – This Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, file photo provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows evacuees from China arriving at Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, Calif. An evacuee from China has tested positive for the coronavirus and has been isolated at a San Diego hospital, a person with direct knowledge of the matter tells The Associated Press, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020.

That exceeds the death toll from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, epidemic of 2003. During that epidemic, 8,000 people in China were infected by the virus and nearly 800 people died.

According to The World Health Organization (WHO), there are currently more than 45,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in China alone. There are another 395 confirmed cases of infection in 24 other countries including the United States.

In fact, the total number of cases in the US rose to 13 when an evacuee transported from China to California was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Monday, February 10. This person left Wuhan on a State Department-chartered flight that carried 167 people from China to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in Sand Diego on Wednesday, February 3.

Initially, four of the Wuhan evacuees were hospitalized when they showed signs of the pneumonia-like illness caused by COVID-19. These signs include cough, fever and shortness of breath. The four individuals were isolated in “negative pressure” rooms that prevented the inside air from escaping and spreading the virus. Fortunately, only one of the four ended up positive for COVID-19. It was the seventh confirmed case of the virus in California

Hundreds of other people were evacuated from China to other military bases in California, Texas and Nebraska. Five people who went to Travis Air Force Base between San Francisco and Sacramento were taken to the hospital when they showed symptoms of illness, but none of them tested positive for the virus.

Elsewhere, about 200 people who were sent to March Reserve Air Base in Southern California were scheduled to be released from a two-week quarantine. And no symptoms were reported among evacuees taken to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio or Nebraska’s National Guard training base in Omaha.

In addition, at least 24 Americans are among the 135 people infected with COVID-19 aboard a cruise ship stranded in Japan.  More than 3,000 people are stuck on that ship, which became a floating quarantine zone after dozens of people tested positive for the virus. Currently, non-infected passengers are permitted to briefly leave their cabins to get fresh air, but they must wear masks and stay one meter away from each other.

Fortunately, there are some positive steps being taken to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. In China, Suzhou-based BrightGene Bio-Medical Technology announced that is has begun mass-producing an experimental drug from Gilead Sciences called remdesivir to battle the highly infectious COVID-19.

BrightGene said it must license the patent for remdesivir from Gilead Sciences, conduct clinical trials and get regulatory approval before it can put the drug on the market. Gilead Sciences invented the drug and patented it in China for use on coronaviruses. The company is working with Chinese, US and WHO officials to determine whether it can be used with COVID-19.

In addition, WHO officials announced that a vaccine against COVID-19 could be ready in 18 months. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, reported that early testing of the vaccine will likely begin in April. In the meantime, countries will have to use what resources they have to fight the virus.

For us, the best way to battle COVID-19, or any virus, is to take pre-emptive steps to prevent contracting and spreading it. To stay healthy, try following these tips:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue, then throw out the tissue.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay at home when you are sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing and sneezing

Fortunately, it’s unlikely you will become infected with COVID-19 unless you recently traveled to China, particularly Wuhan, or are in close contact with someone else who has. But if we all take steps to prevent and detect this virus, maybe we can keep the infection rate in the US from skyrocketing.

Florida Flu Cases on the Rise in 2019

January 6th, 2020

With the peak of flu season upcoming, it’s important to look back at beginning of the 2019-2020 flu season, as the number of people catching influenza is already outpacing what physicians have seen in the past.

According to the Florida Department of Health, 16 outbreaks were reported during the week of Nov. 23, up from nine the week before. Of those, nine were confirmed influenza, while seven were illness with flu-like symptoms. Six counties – Hillsborough, Pinellas, Miami-Dade, Collier, Lake and Escambia – reported five or more new cases that week.

Schools across the Sunshine State have been the hardest hit this year, unlike previous seasons where facilities serving older adults reported more cases.

Overall infection rates remain mild in most Florida counties, however. The predominant strain so far has been B Victoria, which has symptoms that mimic Strain A. However, unlike strain A, influenza B is contracted only by humans. This allows strain A to spread faster than B, which makes a pandemic less likely.

A prevalence of strain B early in the season is rare, and it could mean that folks are in for a second wave caused by stain A. Last year, a second wave hit and extended the flu season through spring. The last time that strain B dominated nationally was during the 1992-93 season. However, experts say the 2019-20 season appears to pose less of a threat.

“Overall, this season has not been as scary. Of course, it’s still early,’’ Ogbonnaya Omenka, assistant professor and public health specialist at Butler University told USA Today. “So far, different health departments have been able to contain it in ways that have allowed us not to have some type of significant outbreak or problem.’’

Nationally, activity continues to increase but the amount of activity and flu strains vary by region. Also, four of 10 regions in the United States were at or above their baselines in the number of visits to outpatient providers, with 2.9 percent of all visits reported as flu-like illnesses. That’s up from 2.4 percent reported during each of the past three weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The flu has already killed five pediatric patients this season.

As for this year’s vaccine, it’s still too soon to determine its effectiveness. However, the fact that World Health Organization changed the strains for the upcoming season in the Southern Hemisphere may indicate what one epidemiologist described as “a mismatch.”

That said, a vaccine still gives you better odds that you would get in Vegas and are still available in most areas. Health care providers say it’s never too late to get one. In addition to a vaccine, other ways of preventing the spread of flu are to avoid being around people who are sick, stay home when you are sick, cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow, and of course, regular handwashing. Here are tips on proper handwashing techniques.

Cancer Vaccines Offer Hope

August 20th, 2019

Vaccines, as you probably know, are medicines that help your body fight disease. If you’re like most people, you received vaccinations against a bunch of disorders – from chickenpox to whooping cough – when you were a kid. Vaccines work with your immune system to recognize and destroy harmful substances, such as disease-causing viruses, that attack your body.

Scientists today are exploring new and better ways to boost the power of the immune system, using vaccines aimed at battling cancer. Cancer vaccines can be used to prevent or treat cancer.

Preventive vaccines currently available include the HPV vaccine, which protects against human papillomavirus (HPV). An HPV infection can lead to cervical, vaginal, vulvar and anal cancer. The hepatitis B vaccine is another preventive cancer vaccine. Hepatitis B infection can cause liver cancer.

Vaccines to treat cancer are a type of immunotherapy because they work directly with your body’s immune system. Cancer treatment vaccines can do several things. These include destroying residual cancer cells after other treatments, stop a tumor from growing or spreading, and prevent cancer that was treated from coming back.

Currently, there are only a handful of active immunotherapies that are approved for treating cancer. There are, however, hundreds more being investigated in clinical trials, in which cancer patients can participate. Clinical trials are research studies that test the safety and effectiveness of new medications, therapies or devices.

While there are numerous cancer clinical trials ongoing, estimates suggest only three percent to six percent of eligible cancer patients participate in them. This not only slows the progress of new treatment development, it also means more than 90 percent of cancer patients may be missing out on potentially life-saving new treatments.

An example is a vaccine developed by researchers at the University of California San Diego Health and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, which is currently in clinical trials. This vaccine, which is for people with deadly metastatic cancer, is specifically created to match each patient’s cancer mutations and immune system.

Study researchers begin by testing patients’ tumors and identifying the neoantigens, or mutations, that cause their immune systems to respond. Researchers then culture the neoantigens with the patients’ T-cells, a type of immune system cell, and give patients a series of three vaccines of the modified T-cells.

To ensure the T-cells remain activated once they reach patients’ tumors, researchers also give patients the immunotherapy medication Keytruda. The bolstered T-cells then go to work destroying the tumor cells.

Another clinical trial, led by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, tested a combination immunotherapy for the treatment of two types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. The two types are diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma.

The treatment tested was a combination of an experimental antibody developed by researchers at Stanford and a commercially available anti-cancer antibody called rituximab.

The experimental antibody works by blocking CD47, a protein that inhibits immune cells called macrophages from attacking and devouring cancer cells. Rituximab amplifies signals to the macrophages to do their job of consuming the cancer cells.

The results of this small, multicenter clinical trial are promising. Half of the 22 people enrolled in phase 1 of the trial had a positive response to the therapy, and about one-third went into complete remission.

These are just two examples of clinical trials looking at new cancer treatments that take advantage of patients’ disease-fighting immune systems. Researchers are hosting many more trials to test vaccines for other types of cancer.

These include cancer of the bladder, breast, cervix, colon, rectum, kidneys, lungs, pancreas and prostate. Other clinical trials are investigating treatments for brain tumors, leukemia, melanoma and myeloma.

If you’re interested in participating in a clinical trial, talk with your doctor about appropriate studies for your situation. You can also look for clinical trials being conducted in your area at

By participating in a clinical trial, you may discover a life-altering treatment that works for you when others have failed. You may also help make a new therapy available to others with cancer who previously had no hope. Talk to your doctor and consider taking part in a clinical trial.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month

August 13th, 2019

Why a vaccine this year may be more important than ever

The hottest days of the summer traditionally occur during a span of days that begins in early July and ends in the middle of August. Better known as the “Dog Days of Summer,’’ this period ends this year on the day just before school begins across the state of Florida.

The beginning of the school year also falls in the middle of National Immunization Awareness Month, an annual observance held every year in the middle of August to highlight the importance of vaccinations for all people, no matter their age.

The goal of National Immunization Awareness Month is to raise awareness and educate people on the role vaccines play in preventing a variety of serious and sometimes deadly diseases, and it is taking on added importance this year.

With nearly a thousand cases already reported, the measles outbreak of 2019 already stands as the largest outbreak since 1994 and the largest since measles was declared eliminated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2000.

That outbreak has affected people in 26 states, including Florida, and public health officials say the spread is due in no small part to a lack of information regarding vaccines, which some believe to be a cause of autism.

Scientific studies have proved there is no link between vaccines and their ingredients autism and that with very few exceptions, vaccines are safe.

The rise in measles cases this year is not due solely to a lack of vaccines, of course. The virus has also been picked up and spread from people traveling from countries where measles remains a common malady.

That, though, is one reason getting a vaccine this year may be more important than ever. With measles cases already on the rise, the chances of someone unknowingly getting the measles virus while on summer vacation has increased.

Consequently, the days and weeks leading up to the start of the school year are the best time to get vaccinated, and it’s not just small children attending school for the first time who may need to be vaccinated.

The Human Papillomavirus, or HPV virus, is one of the most common, affecting nearly all men and women at some point in their lifetime. Nearly 80 million people in the United States alone are currently infected with HPV, which attacks about 14 million Americans annually.

Teenagers and pre-teens are among those often infected by the disease, which can be spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact. The issues associated with HPV often go away on their own after a year or two, but the HPV virus can linger and lead to certain cancers.

HPV is annually the cause of about 30,000 cancer cases, including cancer of the vagina, cervix and vulva in women and cancer of the penis in men. Thankfully, a simple vaccine can prevent those and other cancers from developing.

The CDC recommends that before their 12th or 13th birthday, all boys and girls get two doses of the HPV vaccine. Because the HPV vaccine works best when administered prior to someone getting HPV, doctors says the HPV vaccine can be given as early as age 9.

Because of the measles outbreak, some older adults are even being encouraged to receive a vaccine booster shot this year. People born between 1963 and 1967, for example, may have received an ineffective vaccine, health officials have said.

As with any medicine, people should always consult with a doctor before receiving any vaccinations. But given the measles outbreak and growing cases of HPV, this year, more than most, is a year in which that consultation could prove critical to good health.

Flu Review 2018

February 14th, 2018

Here’s some advice. If you haven’t gotten a flu shot, get one. The 2017-2018 flu season is turning out to be a real monster, and it isn’t close to over yet. In fact, we’re only about halfway through the season.Flu Review 2018

In general, flu season starts getting worse in October, then peaks between December and February. The latest data show this year’s season has not yet peaked, and many more weeks of serious flu activity are expected.

One of things making this flu season so harsh is that the main bug in this year’s viral combination is the particularly nasty H3N2 influenza A strain. This year, it’s combined with another influenza A virus and two influenza B viruses. The H3N2 is known to cause serious seasonal flu epidemics. H3N2 is the most dangerous of the flu strains this flu season.

According to Daniel Jernigan of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Of the viruses we hate, we hate H3N2 more than the other ones.” They hate it because it’s able to adapt rapidly in order to evade the efforts of the immune system, the body’s natural germ-fighting force.

This year’s flu season is one of the worst in years. The CDC reports that as of the beginning of February, infection rates were higher this year than any year since the swine flu hit in 2009. In addition, the number of people being admitted to hospitals due to the flu is the highest they’ve ever recorded at this point in a season.

Currently, there have been more people admitted to hospitals than were admitted during what was a horrendous flu season in 2014-2015. That year, 710,000 Americans went to the hospital, and 56,000 people lost their lives as a complication of the flu.

Many people are being hospitalized, but what about those who don’t get that bad. The CDC releases statistics on the flu weekly. The most recent report indicated the percentage of people going to their doctors with flu symptoms is 7.1 percent. That’s an increase over the previous week, which was 6.5 percent.

Flu symptoms can be different in each person, but there are a few symptoms that are pretty common signals you’ve got the bug. These include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body/muscle aches, headaches and fatigue. Some people may get diarrhea or start vomiting.

For most, otherwise healthy people, the virus will run its course in a few days without treatment other than managing the symptoms. For others, especially the elderly, young children, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart or lung disease, the flu can be a serious proposition requiring treatment with anti-viral medications. This year, Baby Boomers are getting hit hard by the flu, but health officials aren’t sure why.

As of February 5, the CDC rated the flu as widespread in 48 states. Hawaii and Oregon were the only states reporting activity that rated lower than the widespread designation. Also, as of that date, 53 children have died from the flu. It’s not been reported how many adult deaths there have been thus far.

Flu kills by compromising the immune system or using it against you. When a virus enters the body, the immune system sends out special cells to find and kill it. Inflammation occurs as part of this process, but inflammation can keep oxygen from reaching the tissues in the organs. In the lungs, it can affect the blood vessels where oxygen transfer is done, leading to pneumonia. That can be deadly in anyone, but especially in older adults and those with heart or lung disease.

The flu can kill in other ways, too. If inflammation affects several organs, it can lead to body-wide inflammation, or sepsis, which can cause multiple organ failure and death. In addition, the energy needed for the initial reaction to battle the virus takes a toll on and weakens the immune system. This makes the body more susceptible to other infections that can lead to death.

Prevention is your best weapon against the flu, and that includes getting a flu shot. You may think it’s too late or think this year’s flu shot won’t protect you, but do it anyway. Remember, we’ve still got a long way to go before this flu season is over, so don’t put off getting the flu vaccine any longer.

The H3N2 strain tends to be resistant to vaccines, but health officials don’t know how effective this year’s vaccine is against this year’s version of the bug. They won’t know until the flu stops spreading. Keep in mind, though, there are also the three other strains of viruses in this season’s combination. They can also make you sick, and the flu shot protects you against those, as well. It doesn’t guarantee you won’t get sick, but it helps.

There are a few additional things you can do to help prevent the flu or stop the spread of it. One of the most important is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. And if you do have symptoms, stay put at home. Don’t go out, and stay home from work or school to keep from giving the virus to someone else.

Also, clean surfaces you touch regularly. This includes common things like doorknobs and the TV remote, especially if you stay home and park in front of the TV while you’re sick. Keep your tooth brush separated from those of the other people in your house, and wash the sheets and blankets on your bed frequently.

Your best bet against this virus? Use common sense – and get a flu shot.

Seriously Shingles

November 14th, 2017

If you’re over 50, and especially if you’re 60 or older, you need to think seriously about shingles. In the US, there are an estimated one million cases of shingles each year, about 50 percent of them in people 60 or older. It affects one in three Americans during their lifetime. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like those odds. And from what I’ve heard, shingles is a real pain!

Shingles is a painful skin rash that usually appears in a strip on one side of the face or body. The pain has been described as excruciating, aching, burning, stabbing and shock-like. The rash eventually turns into clusters of blisters that fill with fluid then crust over. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same bug that causes chickenpox. Shingles is also called herpes zoster.

What happens is after you’ve had chickenpox, the virus stays in your body, but remains dormant in your nerves. In some people, a disease, stress or simply aging weakens the immune system (it’s not completely understood how), and that dormant virus reactivates, triggering a shingles outbreak. This is important to know because studies show more than 99 percent of Americans age 40 and older have had chickenpox, even if they don’t remember having it.

The active varicella zoster virus is contagious, but it doesn’t spread shingles to other people. The virus can cause chickenpox in those who’ve never had it or never been immunized against it. Since chickenpox vaccine has been a routine part of the childhood immunization schedule for years, this is a rare occurrence.

Symptoms of shingles often come in phases. It may start with a stabbing pain on one side of the body. You may experience a tingling, burning, stinging or itchy sensation followed in a few days by the outbreak of the rash. Other, associated symptoms can include headaches, fever, chills, nausea, malaise, swollen lymph nodes and body aches.

A shingles rash typically lasts from two to four weeks and is treated with antiviral and pain medications. However, one in five people with shingles will go on to experience severe pain long after the rash clears up. This condition is called post-herpetic neuralgia, and it can be debilitating. This pain can last for months or even years.

That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend people 60 and older be vaccinated against shingles. A single-dose vaccine, Zostavax®, has been in use in the United States since 2006. Now, people looking for protection from shingles have two choices. On October 20, the FDA approved a second vaccine called Shingrix. It is touted to offer stronger protection against the virus than Zostavax.

Studies showed Shingrix offered 98 percent protection against shingles in the first year, and that protection remained at 85 percent or higher three years after vaccination. By comparison, Zostavax offers 51 percent and 67 percent protection respectively. Shingrix also reduces the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia by 90 percent.

Two-dose Shingrix is expected to be available to consumers by the end of 2017.

Measles in Minnesota

May 29th, 2017

Photo from istockphoto.comThis year, from January 1 to April 22, 61 people from 10 states were reported to have measles. But by May 24, Minnesota had 68 confirmed cases of its own, most of them in children under age 10, with more cases expected. What’s going on? Didn’t we have this disease beat years ago?

In 2000, the United States declared that measles had been “eliminated,” which meant the illness was no longer endemic, or continually present in this country. However, the measles virus can still be brought into the US by travelers to and from other countries where the infection still flourishes.

Measles outbreaks occur when people who have not been vaccinated against the virus are exposed to and spread it. Exposure comes through having physical contact with an infected person, being near an infected person when he or she coughs or sneezes, and touching surfaces on which infected droplets of mucus have fallen and then touching your mouth or eyes.

We do have a vaccine against measles, and vaccination became routine in the early 1960s, but some people choose not to have their children vaccinated. Many of them have fallen victim to an anti-vaccine movement that erroneously purported a link between the measles vaccine and a greater risk for autism.

While several extensive studies in multiple countries have proven there’s no such link, and the author of the original 1998 study claiming it has been discredited, the fear continues in many parents. That was the case in Minnesota.

The Somali-American community near Minneapolis was targeted by the anti-vaccine movement and their increased risk of autism message. The community believed they had a disproportionately high number of autistic children, so they were particularly susceptible to this message.

As a result of the anti-vaccine efforts, the vaccination rate among the Somali-Americans dropped from 92 percent in 2004 to 42 percent in 2014. This is well below the 92 to 94 percent needed to protect a community from the virus. It also left them wide open to an outbreak, which is exactly what occurred.

Public health officials in Minnesota are working to counter the misinformation spread by the anti-vaccine supporters and encourage Somali-American parents to get their children vaccinated.

Experts recommend an initial dose of the vaccine when children are between 12 and 15 months of age, with a booster before entering school, when they are 4 to 6 years old. This combination is 97 percent effective in preventing measles. A dose of the vaccine can also be given within 72 hours of exposure to prevent the illness.

It’s not impossible for someone who has been vaccinated to still get sick, but it’s very uncommon. And if you’ve already had measles, you’re immune to future infections. If you’ve not been vaccinated and think you might have been exposed, here are a few symptoms to look out for:

  • Rash
  • Runny nose
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Swollen eyelids, inflamed eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Greyish-white spots in the mouth and throat
  • Body aches

There is no special treatment for measles. Doctors generally recommend plenty of rest and typical measures to control fever and prevent dehydration. Symptoms generally go away within seven to 10 days. Measles can cause serious complications, including eye infections, bronchitis, pneumonia and inflammation of the brain.


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