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To Your Good Health

Hepatitis C spread in many ways



DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I would like to know more about hepatitis C. I know sex, childbirth and sharing hypodermic needles with drug users can pass it on. Can a person contract it from using the same toilet as an infected person or from using such a person’s cups or dishes? – D.S.

ANSWER: Hepatitis C is anything but a seldom-seen illness. Around 4 million Americans have it.

The initial illness – acute hepatitis – brings symptoms like fatigue, nausea and vomiting. Rarely does it cause yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Most get over the acute sickness in a short time. In fact, the largest number of infected people never have a single day of illness and never know that they are infected. The virus, however, stays in the body for life in many and can continue to wreak havoc in the liver. Twenty years down the road, about one-fifth of those infected will have developed liver cirrhosis, and some will have come down with liver cancer.

The chief route of viral transmission in North America is sharing of contaminated needles for illicit drug injection. Having multiple sex partners is another important route of infection. However, transmission from an infected marital partner to a spouse is possible but not common. Medical personnel can catch the illness through an accidental needle stick from an infected person. Infected mothers can transmit it to their babies. Blood transfusions, once a great contributor to spread, rarely pass the illness now that all blood is checked for the virus. And there is a category of people whose source of infection is not known.

The illness is not picked up from toilet seats. Using cups, plates or eating utensils of an infected person doesn’t spread it. Neither does kissing or hugging an infected person. It is not wise, however, to share things that might have blood on them – for instance, razors or toothbrushes.

Hepatitis C is treatable but not always curable. The medicines are interferon and ribavirin.

The pamphlet on all the hepatitis viruses explains the illnesses they cause and their treatments. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 503W, Box 536475, Orlando, FL32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Canada with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Will you assure my mother that it is OK to take the anxiety medicine her doctors recommend? She thinks it is a weakness to use such medicine. When she takes it, she is happy. When she doesn’t, she is miserable. – M.M.

ANSWER: Anxiety prepares us to fight or flee when danger arises. Constant anxiety is not normal. It takes its toll on the heart, on blood pressure, on the digestive tract and on just about all organs. It does not come from a moral weakness. It comes from a mix-up in the production of brain-messenger chemicals. Medicine can correct such an imbalance, and your mom should not hesitate to use it.

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, FL32853- 6475.

©2008 North America Synd.

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