Dr. Marc answers readers’ questions every other week. To send a query, click here.
Dear Dr. Marc,
I have been reading the March/April edition of American Scientist. The article “Influenza,” which is co-authored by the director of WHO’s collaborating center on the ecology of influenza viruses in lower animals and birds, is most interesting. My question is this: As the prescribing physician for a SARS patient, would you prescribe the M2 inhibitors or the antineuraminidase drugs, and by what means would you reach a clinical judgment?
NIKKI VANESSA LEGER
New York, NY
Please keep in mind that there are still only some 4,000 cases of SARS worldwide, so the chances of my being a treating physician on such a case is very low. Further, SARS doesn’t often make people sick enough to justify rushing a patient to an antiviral drug like the two you mentioned until they have been better studied or the patient is deathly ill. SARS resembles many other respiratory viruses, though it is currently more progressive in some cases. Suspected SARS patients can be isolated for a period of days for the purposes of observation and viral testing. For much more on SARS, see my online Nation article coming soon to www.thenation.com.
Dear Dr. Marc,
Recently I bought antiradiation pills. Do these do anything? I also read in the New York Times that pediatricians are recommending antiradiation pills for children. As a grandma, I’m especially curious about that. I figure I have to carry them around all the time. Also, will these pills protect my skin from radiation burns?
These pills only protect the thyroid against long-term risks of some cancers if you are exposed to certain kinds of radiation, which many of the potential terrorist weapons do not contain. Further, these pills may do harm to those with hidden thyroid conditions for those over 40. For children, there may be some temporary limited value, but overall, I don’t think they’re of great efficacy and of some possible harm.
Dear Dr. Marc,
I have been seeing infomercials on TV selling coral calcium. What can you tell me about this product? Mr. Robert Barefoot, who is an author, scientist and promoter of this product, sings its praises for practically everything under the sun, including pain, weight gain and sleeplessness. Please tell me if this product has any validity. I have osteoarthritis and take twenty-five milligrams of Vioxx once a day. I don’t like to take prescription drugs if there is something else available. Thank you for whatever information you can provide.
Grand Rapids, MI
There has been a lot in the news lately about calcium as a preventative for all sorts of things including cancer. But there haven’t been sufficient studies on this. There may be some effectiveness in preventing bone loss, but no convincing data yet exist. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents such as Vioxx may relieve symptoms, but chronic daily use is not good for the kidneys or liver, among other possible negative side effects. Acetominophen may be an alternative, but also has toxicity and may be harmful if overused. There is no magic pill for osteoarthritis, unfortunately, which essentially is due to “wear and tear,” as you probably already know.