DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please furnish information on the shingles vaccine. Our primary-care doctor recommends being immunized as a preventive measure for people 60 and older who had chickenpox as children.

Most doctors and pharmacists do not recommend getting this injection, which is strange to me. Will you give me the pros and cons of the vaccine? Would you recommend it? I am 69. — T.P.

ANSWER: Shingles is a one-sided, painful rash caused by the wakened chickenpox virus, which lives on in the body’s nerve cells after a childhood infection. Shingles is bad, but the rash always goes. Pain, however, can linger for prolonged times, even years. That’s postherpetic (post shingles) neuralgia — intense pain due to the virus’s passage down the nerve to the skin. The nerve has been damaged.

The shingles vaccine prevents both the outbreak of shingles and the possible postherpetic neuralgia aftermath. It cuts the chance of getting shingles in half, and it lessens the odds of postherpetic neuralgia by two-thirds.

The vaccine is for those over 60. It’s given even if a person can’t remember having had chickenpox. Ninety percent of adults have evidence of harboring the chickenpox virus. And it’s given to those who have had one outbreak of shingles. Such an outbreak boosts immunity, but people can have a second outbreak — although it’s not a common experience.

I find most doctors in favor of the vaccine. One of its cons is that it is expensive. Make sure you talk about this before you arrive for a vaccination. Medicare part D covers most of the cost since it covers the cost of prescription medicines, as do some insurance plans. Another con for the doctor is the requirement to store it at a temperature of -15 C (5 F), but doctors usually can make arrangements for such storage.

I’m all for it.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Is there anything to help an alcoholic stop drinking? A pill? My 54-year-old daughter is an alcoholic. She’s about to ruin her marriage and about to kill her parents and her family. — M.L.

ANSWER: Essential to the success of alcoholism treatment is the firm desire and resolution of the alcoholic to break the addiction.

Your daughter would benefit from the help of an expert, and she can find one by asking her family doctor for a name. She’d also greatly benefit from the support and direction of Alcoholics Anonymous, an organization that has, for decades and decades, helped people become and remain sober.

Medicines can provide additional assistance to keep alcoholics from succumbing to the intense desire to take an alcoholic drink. They are not miracle drugs. They’re only a help. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral) and naltrexone (ReVia, Vivitrol) are their names. They require a doctor’s prescription.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Enclosed is an article I received from a friend. I would like your opinion on it.

I have a gut feeling that is one of those too-good-to-be-true stories. — R.T.

ANSWER: R.T.’s article is hymn to the powerful, health-conferring properties of asparagus. Included among the disease it’s purported to cure are a number of different cancers: bladder, Hodgkin’s disease, skin cancer and lung cancer (not bad when you consider that devoted scientists have looked for a cancer cure for centuries). A recipe provides directions on how to prepare the asparagus.

I agree with you, R.T. This is one of those too-good-to-be true stories. I hope no cancer patient abandons recommended treatment to try this proposed cure.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.