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Smallpox, Smoking and Sympathetic Dystrophy | The Nation

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Smallpox, Smoking and Sympathetic Dystrophy

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Dr. Marc regularly answers readers' questions on matters relating to medicine, healthcare and politics. To send a query, click here.

About the Author

Dr. Marc Siegel
Dr. Marc Siegel is a practicing internist and an associate professor of medicine and a fellow in the Master Scholars...

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The city lacks the resources to address its residents' urgent mental health needs.

The United States has fueled a worldwide overreaction to the threat of a bird
flu pandemic, putting AIDS, malaria, malnutrition and other crucial
global health programs at risk.

My right eyelid twitches on an irregular but steady basis. Is this anything to worry about? Or is it just age and the worries of the world?

EDEN ROSS LIPSON
New York City

Dear Eden,

It sounds like too much worry and too much coffee. Age is not really a factor, though I suppose the loosening of tissue makes it slightly more prone to twitch. Eyelid twitching is a very common stress-related feature, frequently induced by caffeine.


Prescription drugs cost more in the United States than elsewhere. Why then, are pharmaceutical companies allowed to advertise prescription drugs on television? The federal government has banned tobacco-product advertising on television, and networks have maintained their own ban on distilled spirits. Is the pharmaceutical-industry lobby just too strong?

LOU POVICH
Chicago, IL

Dear Lou,

Yes, the lobby is strong, and the industry tries to hide info about its true costs under the banner of research and development. In reality though, much of the justification for R&D costs is generated by the needs entailed in corporate competition (see "Fighting the Drug (Ad) Wars," The Nation, June 17, 2002). I agree that this sort of advertising should be restricted, especially as it provides distorted information and is the basis for an outrageous price-scale. And even more important, we need a nationwide grassroots movement that can put pressure on politicians to curb the drug industry's ability to influence federal legislation.


Why are the people who are against letting us keep our own money constantly distorting the facts about the tax cut? Everybody who pays taxes gets the same percent tax cut. If I make $60,000 and you make $500,000, then obviously you're going get back more than me, but that's because you paid in more than me. I'm a psychologist, and my diagnosis of these people who keep saying the tax cut is for the rich is either that they're habitual liars or they have no clue what they're talking about. Which do you think it is?

HAROLD FORNABY
Phoenix, AZ

Dear Harold,

The exact economics may be beyond me, but I suspect neither one of us will be saving a dime on this tax cut. I guess that's a way of saying I disagree with you. In the way I learned mathematics, which was then applied to my physics courses and later to medicine, if you spend $100 billion or more in an unnecessary war, and then you cut taxes, there is going to be very little money left for your budget. I think your type of thinking is why our healthcare system is also in such profoundly bad shape. And that's a subject I'm prepared and qualified to talk about.


I have been told I have the "Epstein-Barr virus" and I do feel a loss of energy generally. I am very physically active in my job throughout the day. Can you advise me of any vitamins or supplements that may help increase my energy? I've been told ginseng works well. Goldenseal too. I have also been told that bee pollen is helpful but can be canceled out when used with ginseng. Any advice?

ADAM McCAULEY
Ann Arbor, MI

Dear Adam,

Before turning to herbal remedies which could, in fact, improve your energy but have varying amounts of active ingredients, I suggest you consult your physician for a full medical evaluation. The fatigue may be from something other than Epstein-Barr virus. Recurrence of this virus is possible but problematic. This is a difficult diagnosis to make and is too often used as a blanket term to cover fatigue in someone who has had mononucleosis or other afflictions in the past. See your physician.


I recently came across an article in a public space that said, contrary to what we've been taught over the past few decades, that smallpox is actually transmitted via bedbugs, much like yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes. According to the article, early in the twentieth century, experiments were done by a physician who did not contract the virus despite his direct contact with patients and the discharge from their pox. Today I did an Internet search and came across similar information, albeit from one site only, about a Dr. Charles Campbell who apparently did similar experiments in Mexico. Do you have any information about this at all?

TIFFANY BUCZEK
Pittsburgh, PA

Dear Tiffany,

I believe you are right, although smallpox, when it ran rampant, was generally transmitted from respiratory mucoid droplets transmitted from a person sick with smallpox. Not to worry though: The last case of naturally occurring smallpox in the world was back in the 1970s.


I'm 34 years old and have smoked since I was 16. I just quit (hopefully for good) two weeks ago. Is it possible that the damage done to my lungs can be repaired over some time? If so, how long? Are there any particular foods that I should be eating with regard to aiding in the recovery of a respiratory system?

J. JACKSON
Belmore, NY

Dear J,

You don't say how much you smoked, and that is a crucial factor to the repair of the lungs. Generally speaking, over ten years time, the lungs would have done a lot of vacuuming and repairing to themselves. The lining will again be pink and spongy. Much of your damage will be reversed after a decade of nonsmoking. However, you should still have regular checkups including chest X-rays by your physician. As far as specific foods to eat, protein is good for the lungs because of the number of lung enzymes that derive from protein. Beyond this I can't say.


I've had RSD/CRPS (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy/Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) for almost three years. I've been in a wheelchair all that time. I have lost a great deal of bone as it causes osteoporosis. I am reading a lot about coral calcium. Do you know anything about this supplement and if it might help me? I am in a great deal of pain daily.

CAROLYN FIERSON
San Diego, CA

Dear Carolyn,

It sounds like you need treatment for your osteoporosis--perhaps Fosamax to prevent further bone loss. Honestly, I don't believe that coral calcium will make a significant difference.

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