Could childhood illness have been hepatitis?
DEAR DRS. DONOHUE AND ROACH: I am a female in my 70s. When I was 12 years old, I, along with a younger brother and older sister, all had what our doctor called "yellow jaundice." We all were very sick for about two weeks. It was very contagious and a good percentage of the schoolchildren had it, although none of my family members at home caught it from us.
I know jaundice in itself is not a disease. Could we have had hepatitis? Are there any long-term effects from it? -- A.P.
ANSWER: It does indeed sound like hepatitis.
The most common form of contagious hepatitis is called hepatitis A. It comes from contaminated food or water, but it sounds like your family was very careful if nobody else at home caught it. Fortunately, hepatitis A does not have any long-term effects, the way hepatitis B and C do.
Acute mononucleosis sometimes causes hepatitis, but if a lot of kids had it at the same time, I suspect it came from food. There is now a vaccine for hepatitis A, which is recommended for all travelers.
The booklet on hepatitis explains the three different kinds -- A, B and C. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue -- No. 503, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient's printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DRS. DONOHUE AND ROACH: I understand that an appropriate amount of alcohol per day for a man is two drinks, with one drink equaling 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of hard liquor. Would someone who consumes twice this amount be addicted to alcohol? Is he or she an alcoholic even if this amount of alcohol does not affect a person's ability to function?
I know that alcohol in moderation is good for the heart, but how about the brain? Growing up, I always heard that alcohol kills brain cells -- or does it inhibit brain cell connections? -- B.
ANSWER: If you choose to drink, then drinking in moderation definitely is the way to go. The jury is still out on whether alcohol is good for the heart. It turns out that people who drink moderately do indeed live a bit longer and have less heart disease than people who don't drink at all; however, people who drink moderately tend to be healthier in other ways, too. They see their doctors, exercise and generally take better care of themselves than the average person.
Researchers argue over whether alcohol actually helps the heart, but I think it probably does, at least to a small degree. However, all possible benefits of alcohol disappear when alcohol use becomes excessive. For a man, binge drinking is defined as five drinks per day, and your question was about an average of four drinks per day. That degree of alcohol is associated with a worsened, not improved, health function. Men who drink that much routinely may not feel that it affects function, but it does. Reflexes are slower and judgment is impaired. For most men, four drinks in a short time also exceeds the legal limit for driving.
The term "alcoholic" isn't really used in the medical literature anymore. We do talk about problem drinking, but that tends to be about the level of functioning at work, at home and in social situations, and many men and women do very well in these domains even if the amount of alcohol consumed is above the healthy amount. Also, alcohol doesn't actually kill brain cells, even if it impairs brain function.
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Drs. Donohue and Roach regret that they are unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may write the doctors or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers also may order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.
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