Herpes-infected couple must be careful when starting a family


Q: Before my husband and I got married two years ago he told me he had herpes. He's been extremely careful to protect me and always uses a condom. I have not caught it but now we want to start a family.

His doctor has prescribed Zovirax to prevent herpes outbreaks if he takes it daily. I've heard you can catch the virus even if there is no sore. Will this medicine protect me? Is it true that if a woman catches herpes and transmits it to her baby it can be very dangerous?

A: It is true that a baby exposed to herpes during labor and delivery can become infected. This may have serious consequences. That is why some obstetricians opt for Caesarian section to reduce this risk if the mother has an active outbreak.

Zovirax (acyclovir) is very effective in suppressing herpes lesions, but the virus can occasionally be transmitted even when there is no visible sore. According to several studies, roughly one in 10 women whose partners are infected will catch herpes over the course of a year. In these studies, some couples used condoms when men had lesions and other couples refrained from intercourse during outbreaks. Infections are not always obvious, so some people may contract the virus without knowing it.

Once you become pregnant, your husband should return to using a condom to reduce your risk of infection. Tell your doctor about your concerns so that a blood test for HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus) can be done during the pregnancy. This will tell if special management is needed to protect your baby during labor and delivery.

Q: Where is the best place to keep my supply of vitamins and medications -- in the refrigerator or at room temperature? There's niacin, Ecotrin, One-A-Day, garlic pills and arthritis medicine. The house temperature is 78 degrees in the winter and 83 degrees in the summer.

A: Most vitamins and pills do best stored at room temperature, defined as anything between 59 and 86 degrees. Your house is clearly within that range.

A: My doctor wants me to take aspirin to prevent a heart attack, but it tears my stomach up. I take just two tablets a day, but am ready to give up. I've tried coated aspirin and buffered aspirin but the heartburn is still bad. I don't want to get an ulcer to prevent a heart attack that might never happen. Is there any way to get the benefits of aspirin without ruining your stomach?

A: Check with your doctor about how much aspirin you need to protect your heart. Many experts are now recommending lower doses. There is growing evidence that as little as half a baby aspirin (40 mg) may provide substantial benefit and could be less damaging to the stomach.

As great as aspirin may be for preventing heart attacks, strokes and cancer, ulcers are a serious risk not to be ignored.

We are sending you our guide to Key Aspirin Information in which we discuss the range of doses for aspirin's various benefits. We detail side effects and how to protect your stomach as well as listing drugs that interact with aspirin. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 with a long (No. 10) stamped, self-addressed envelope: Graedons' People's Pharmacy, No. A-10, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, N.C. 27717-2027.

Q: I read that purple grape juice contains resveratrol, which is supposed to unclog arteries. How much grape juice do you need to drink? As I have clogged arteries I am very interested.

A: There has indeed been speculation that resveratrol may lower cholesterol, but this is based mostly on animal research. Grape juice, like red wine, might have protective effects

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.

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