Q. I’ve always heard that it is essential to wash your hands after using the restroom. But I think hand washing might be hazardous.
You could pick up germs turning the water off after washing your hands. How do you get out of the restroom without touching the door handle?
Hand washing creates a false sense of security and is not all it’s cracked up to be.
A. Microbiologist Charles Gerba, Ph.D., confirms that faucet handles in public restrooms are often contaminated with bacteria. So are bathroom door handles. Touching the handles after washing is counterproductive. Dr. Gerba suggests using a paper towel to turn the water on and off and to open the door.
You might carry an alcohol gel for waterless hand sanitizing. A recent study showed that families using alcohol gels were less likely to pass around stomach flu (Pediatrics, September 2005). (See Quick Study column below.)
Q. Several years ago my arthritis started acting up. I started taking aspirin to relieve my pain and inflammation.
Eventually I consulted a physician. When he discovered I was taking at least 27 regular aspirin tablets a day, he said:
“Mary, you have two choices: Either change your medication, or die in a pool of your own blood.”
Then he prescribed Lodine (etodolac). In the flap over Vioxx, I have never seen it mentioned. I’ve taken Lodine for 10 years when I need it. It eases my arthritis symptoms so much, it is like a miracle. How safe is Lodine compared with other drugs?
A. Decades ago, doctors relied on aspirin to ease inflammation. It was not unusual for them to prescribe 12 to 18 tablets a day for severe arthritis pain.
In acute flare-ups of rheumatic fever, the dose might go up to 24 pills. But at such high levels the drug can cause ringing in the ears and serious stomach ulcers.
Then many nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) were developed to relieve pain. They include diclofenac (Cataflam, Voltaren), etodolac (Lodine), fenoprofen (Nalfon), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), indomethacin (Indocin), nabumetone (Relafen), and naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn).
Like aspirin, such drugs can cause stomach irritation and bleeding ulcers. They may also raise blood pressure. There is growing concern that some may also increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes, as Vioxx does.
Q. Vaginal dryness has made relations with my husband uncomfortable. My doctor prescribed Premarin cream to solve this problem. Although it works, I am concerned about absorbing estrogen. I understand this could be hazardous. Are there any alternatives?
A. Premarin cream contains conjugated estrogens and has long been used to treat vaginal dryness associated with menopause. Research has shown, however, that estrogen is absorbed easily from the vaginal tract. That means you are being exposed to estrogen almost as if you were taking pills.
A small study more than a decade ago compared Premarin cream with the lubricant Replens and found that women were equally satisfied with the results.
We are sending you our Guides to Benefits and Risks of Estrogen plus Female Sexuality, with more information on lubricants. Anyone who would like copies, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. WZ-492, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.
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