QUESTION: I am 53. Last summer, I stepped on a nail and went in for a tetanus shot. I do not remember having been immunized or ever having such a shot before. Will the one shot I had protect me in the future? Do I need the full series of shots, as my sister's doctor recommended for her after a similar incident? - C.D.C.
ANSWER: The shot you got last summer protects you a little, but your body needs the three-shot series to get fully primed to make enough antibodies for full protection in the future.To repeat, any person who has a puncture wound or any break in the skin and has not had the basic protection should get the full series. After the first shot, a second is given four to six weeks later and the third six months to a year after that. Further, the person who has no prior protection and who has a tetanus-prone wound needs the immediate extra protection of tetanus immune globulin in addition to the first tetanus vaccine shot. The globulins are antibodies that help fight off a tetanus germ while the body is getting in gear to make its own.
We all should keep our tetanus protection (every 10 years) up to date. Tetanus, also called lockjaw, comes from a bacterium found worldwide and especially in soil. You don't need the proverbial "rusty nail" wound to become infected. You can be infected from a shiny one, or from any object that causes a skinbreaking kind of wound. The germ can enter the body even with frostbite wounds or burns.
Senior citizens who were children when record-keeping may not have been as complete as today's often find to their dismay that they lack the original tetanus series and/or the 10-year booster protection.
QUESTION: I am 11 years old. I was wondering what makes hair gray. Sometimes you get gray hair when you are young, and sometimes you get it when you are much older. I would really really appreciate an answer. Thank you if you do respond and thank you if you don't respond. - Cassandra
ANSWER: A hair turns gray when the pigmentmaking cells deep in the hair strand (the follicle) stop producing. In time this may happen to many hair follicles all at once and presto, the person becomes gray. I'm sure you have many years to wait for that to happen.
QUESTION: I read your column every day. No one has asked this. What causes the stomach to make noises, like growling sounds? I am concerned about mine. - G.C.
ANSWER: Those rumblings are borborygmi (BORE-bore-RIG-my). They're due to the propulsion of gases, liquids and solids through the digestive tract. Often, they become louder when the stomach is empty or when you've swallowed a lot of air, as in fast eating. Certain foods fermented by digestive tract bacteria produce such rumblings.
In special cases, like intestinal obstruction, borborygmi grow especially loud. But those are special cases in which pain accompanies the noises. Usually, borborygmi are sound and fury signifying nothing.
QUESTION: My husband, 37, took a urine test and it came back positive for pot. We are shocked. Neither of us use it. We smoke cigarettes. Could that cause a positive test? - B.H.
ANSWER: No. Nicotine is not mistaken for marijuana. No test is perfect. Samples must go from place to place and be labeled and relabeled by many hands. The test itself is very accurate, but processing errors are not uncommon. Your husband should be retested.
QUESTION: The difference, please, between seborrheic dermatitis and rosacea? - P.K.
ANSWER: Seborrhea is found on the scalp, forehead, eyebrows, lids and creases around the nose and mouth. There are loose, dry, moist or greasy scales with pink to yellow crusting areas. Rosacea is confined to the blush areas of the face and to the nose and chin. It is a reddishness with tiny pimples, and often a starburst of tiny blood vessels. Rosacea is common in middle-age women, seborrhea at any age.
Parkinson's disease afflicts more than 200,000 Americans, with 36,000 new cases reported annually. Dr. Donohue's booklet No. 24 is a practical guide to treatment, therapies and drugs used for control. For a copy, send your request to Dr. Donohue/No. 24, P.O. Box 19660, Irvine, CA 92713-0660. Please enclose a long, self-addressed, stamped envelope and $2.
Dr. Donohue welcomes reader mail but regrets that, due to the tremendous volume received daily, he is unable to answer individual letters. Readers' questions are incorporated in his column whenever possible.