DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My 50-year-old aunt was diagnosed with transverse myelitis. She could not walk and still can’t. She feels things in her legs, so we’re hoping she will walk again. I can’t find any information on this problem. Will you say something about it? – L.M.

The spinal cord – about the same width as the little finger – is composed of nerve cells and cables that connect it to the brain. It is, in effect, an extension of the brain. It transmits information to the brain and it receives orders from the brain that tell muscles how to act and organs how to function. Transverse myelitis is an inflammation of one or two segments of the cord, and the inflammation extends from one side to the other (transverse). The section of cord that is affected determines the signs and symptoms. When it is in the lower back, the legs are weakened or paralyzed. If it’s in the neck, paralysis from the neck down occurs.

The cause often is undiscoverable. It could be a viral infection, a sudden decrease in blood flow to the affected region of the cord or an immune attack on the cord.

There is no cure medicine or treatment. However, recovery often begins from two weeks to three months after the initial symptoms appeared, and it can continue for as long as two years.

About one-third of patients make a good recovery; another third, a fair recovery; and the final third are left with significant impairment.

No one can be certain of a patient’s rebound from this serious spinal cord affliction. The return of feeling in your aunt’s legs is a good sign.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a question whose answer I desperately need. If a person has the HIV virus but does not have AIDS, is it necessary for that person to have two TB tests a year? I have been advised by a friend that two TB tests in one year are harmful. I currently reside in a state prison that has this testing policy. – A.W.

The human immunodeficiency virus saps the body of its immune capabilities, so all kinds of infections are common, and tuberculosis is dreaded. Although you do not have AIDS – the full-blown signs and symptoms of HIV infection – your immune system might not be as robust as it should be. Since you are living in crowded conditions, the spread of TB always is a threat, and the spread to someone like you is a real threat. The TB skin test is a powerful detector of infection with the TB germ. This twice-a-year policy is not a danger to your health. TB is. I’d go along with the tests for my own welfare, if I were you.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I do hope you will be able to reply to my question. It is something that quite upsets me.

My granddaughter had a tattoo put on her arm from shoulder to elbow. Why she ever did this is beyond me. She is to be married next September. She is trying to cover the tattoo with makeup so it won’t be seen.

Is it possible to have it removed? Do plastic surgeons take these things off? – C.G.

ANSWER: People mulling over the wisdom of a tattoo should consider it like they would a diamond – something that lasts forever. It could make them pause.

Yes, tattoos can be removed with lasers. Treatment is expensive, time-consuming and sometimes cannot get rid of all traces of the tattoo. It depends on the pigment used, but lasers do a pretty good job. Work is under way for the development of pigments that are more readily erased.

Plastic surgeons, dermatologists and other doctors are adept at removing tattoos.

Older treatments, still used from time to time, include cutting out the skin (done with small tattoos) or abrading the tattoo, similar to abrading acne scars.

FOR DR. P.R.: Thanks so much, doctor, for your suggestions on treating canker sores. I will try to incorporate them into the next discussion of them. Your address was lost en route to me, so I could not answer you personally.

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

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