Many ignore protection of condoms

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY

July 19, 1994|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

One way to avoid AIDS is not have sex. Abstinence is guaranteed to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

So DON'T DO IT!

Of course we recognize that such advice may not be followed, especially by young adults who believe they will live forever no matter what they do. Our fallback position is USE A CONDOM!

Unfortunately, too many people are not following either suggestion. Condom sales are flat, despite ad campaigns to encourage their use.

After years of resistance, network television finally allowed condoms out of the closet and onto prime time. In one, a couple is interrupted when an animated condom hops out of a bureau and into bed with them. In another, a woman breaks off a passionate embrace when her partner confesses he forgot to bring a condom: "Forgot it? -- forget it!"

The results of all this air-wave daring have been disappointing, to say the least. Some top-selling brands, such as Trojans, Sheiks and Ramses, have actually seen sales drop.

Although many homosexual men have adopted condom use, heterosexuals don't seem to realize their risks. A survey in San Francisco revealed that only 24 percent of men and 20 percent of women who had several partners were using condoms regularly.

Twelve million new sexually transmitted infections (STDs) are passed from one person to another every year. Two-thirds are in people under 25. Cases of chlamydia have skyrocketed to 4 million annually.

A lot of people complain that condoms are not foolproof -- that they break or are not used correctly. While that is true, they are still the best we have after abstinence.

Part of the problem is that no one wants to talk about proper condom use. Once upon a time, condoms were only available behind the counter. To buy them, you had to ask a pharmacist -- if you could pluck up the courage.

Today, condoms are widely available, but people may still not know how to use them properly. That's why it is so important to enlist your pharmacist in helping you understand how to prevent transmission of HIV -- the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS -- and other STDs.

The pharmacist has always been the best source of information on over-the-counter contraceptives, such as condoms and spermicidal foams, suppositories and sponges. Now that a new female condom (Reality) is about to enter the market, it will be more important than ever to have this valuable resource to turn to for information.

The female condom offers women the protection of a barrier contraceptive without leaving her at the whim of her partner. Unless it is used very carefully, though, the device could have a pregnancy failure rate as high as 26 percent a year.

Sexually transmitted infections can have tragic consequences -- pain, mental anguish, infertility and even death. Condoms save lives, so consult your pharmacist!

I experienced a terrible allergic reaction to Vasotec. My face and tongue swelled up so much I could barely breathe. I went to the emergency room, and they kept me in the hospital.

My doctor says this doesn't need to be reported, but I think someone at the FDA should know. How can I file an official report?

Ask your pharmacist to file a MedWatch Report. She can request a form by calling (800) FDA-1088.

Q: Ever since I read that the flush, tap and door handles in public bathrooms could be contaminated with bacteria, I've been nervous.

When I go to my doctor's office and use the bathroom it's especially nerve-racking. I am afraid I will catch something from washing up. They use bar soap, and I worry

that somebody sick might have contaminated the fixtures or the soap before I use them. My husband says I am being silly, but I would like your opinion.

A: At the risk of making millions of people paranoid, we don't think your concerns are entirely groundless.

There is evidence that when people flush the toilet, a fine mist of water and germs is sprayed into the air. After a while, the bacteria and viruses settle on all available surfaces, including handles, counter tops and toothbrushes.

In case you're wondering, closing the lid doesn't really help that much, since the aerosol effect lingers for hours -- and woe to the person who eventually lifts the lid.

We have also seen data that suggest bar soap is a potential reservoir for bacteria. Liquid soap seems safer. Microbiologist Chuck Gerba at the University of Arizona has studied bathroom bugs and recommends that toilet and bathroom surfaces be disinfected at least once a week.

My husband snores and keeps me awake. Is there a drug that he could take to stop the snoring?

Snoring could be a symptom of sleep apnea, a serious health problem that needs medical attention.

We know of no medication that is an antidote to snoring. People have come up with all sorts of home remedies, though. Some sew a tennis ball in the back of the pajama top to keep a person from sleeping on his back.

A sleep researcher recently told us about an adhesive strip that goes across the nose to hold the nostrils open. He thought it was promising.

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

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