Avian flu, the newest infection worry


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Would you inform us about avian flu? For instance, can one catch it from well-cooked chicken, turkey or duck? Are domestic birds – cardinals, sparrows, etc. – infectious? How long can the virus live on the ground or on surfaces? If you live alone and in the country, would isolating yourself from others give you a better chance of not catching the illness? – D.C.

ANSWER: There’s always something in the world of infectious diseases to upset human tranquility. We’ve been and are still passing through AIDS, West Nile fever and antibiotic-resistant supergerms. Now, it’s avian (bird) flu.

Wild birds – waterfowl and shore birds, including wild geese, wild ducks, storks, egrets, herons and falcons – are the common carriers of avian flu virus. The virus doesn’t usually make those birds sick. They can spread the virus far and wide in their annual migrations. All birds are potential hosts to the virus, but the greatest threat to the bird world is found in chickens, turkeys and domestic ducks. They catch the virus from direct contact with the wild birds or from their droppings, or from food or water contaminated with their droppings. The virus is in the birds’ droppings, their nasal secretions and their saliva. Domestic birds frequently become sick and die when they are infected.

The avian flu virus stays alive for “long periods” in the birds’ excretions and on surfaces and inanimate objects contaminated with their excretions.

Human-to-human transmission is the great fear, for that would lead to rapid dissemination of the virus through the human population. That hasn’t been a major factor in transmission to date. I suppose if it did become a reality, isolation might offer some protection against infection.

Cooking poultry and eggs inactivates the virus. Poultry should be cooked to 160 to 165 F (70 C), and eggs should be cooked to the point where they aren’t runny.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: You suggested to a person who complained of body odor that he should try a pure antiperspirant. His problem is not that he sweats, but that bacteria on his skin cause the sweat to smell. He needs an antibacterial soap like Hibiclens. It is sold over the counter in almost all drugstores. During a daily shower it should be applied to the underarms, left on for 15 or 20 minutes and then rinsed off. In more than 20 years of having patients use it, I have never seen one in whom it caused itching or a rash. Patients love it. – T.M., M.D.

ANSWER: Thank you, Doctor. Indeed, it is bacteria feasting on oil and sweat that leads to the production of unpleasant smells. Hibiclens contains chlorhexidine, which has antigerm action. Other brands containing chlorhexidine include Dyna-Hex, Betasept, Exidine and BactoShield.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I had a funny experience. I was on a cellular phone for almost 25 minutes. When I hung up, there was a numbness on the left side of my head. It lasted about 30 minutes. I thought I was having a stroke. Do you think that the battery in the phone had anything to do with it? – G.L.

ANSWER: No, I don’t think it was the battery or anything about the phone other than its weight that caused your numbness. You must have been pressing on a nerve, which temporarily caused the nerve to lose its ability to transmit sensations.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Is putting honey in the eyes each day beneficial, or is it risky? I thought honey could be contaminated. My friends say it makes the eyes healthy, and they are doing it. They read about this in a medical book. – D.K.

ANSWER: That gives me the creeps.

Honey doesn’t make the eyes healthy. As for the risk, a very few batches of honey might have clostridium spores (a bacterium) in it. That presents a problem only to infants younger than 1 year.

Don’t believe everything you read in a book. Send me the name of this one. I’ll try to get a copy. I wouldn’t think of following this advice. You shouldn’t either.

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