Germ warfare and the public restroom



Q. I am appalled at the condition of the public restroom where I work. It is filthy, and I hate to get close to the toilet seats. I have osteoarthritis in my knees, so crouching above the toilet is very difficult.

How effective are disposable seat covers? I have seen them in the pharmacy, but I don't know if they can really protect me from germs.

A.Toilet seat covers are a good investment if they make you feel more comfortable and keep you from crouching. Research has shown that women who hover over toilets instead of sitting down are less likely to empty their bladders completely and may be more vulnerable to urinary infections or incontinence.

Toilet seat covers do provide a barrier against germs, but we have never seen any research showing that people catch diseases from toilet seats anyway. We worry more about the bacteria that are found on flush handles, taps and doorknobs. If you touch contaminated tap handles to turn the water off or open the door to leave, you could carry someone else's germs on your hands even though you washed them. Using a paper towel can solve this problem.

Q.I took Lipitor for several months and stopped when I developed muscle aches, spasms and weakness in my legs. This is the third "statin" drug I have taken, and I've had the same problem with each of them.

My doctor doesn't seem concerned about my muscle symptoms and wants me to continue with Lipitor. But the Lipitor ads say to "consult your doctor if you have muscle pain." I am confused.

A.Your symptoms could be associated with a serious reaction called rhabdomyolysis. Cholesterol-lowering drugs such as Lipitor, Lescol, Mevacor and Zocor can cause muscle tissue breakdown. Although this condition is rare, if it is allowed to progress untreated it can lead to kidney damage.

This problem may be more likely as a consequence of drug interactions. Antibiotics (Biaxin, erythromycin) and antifungal drugs (Nizoral, Sporanox) can affect blood levels of Zocor and certain other statin cholesterol drugs. So can some heart and blood pressure medicines, including verapamil (Calan, Covera, Isoptin, Verelan) and diltiazem (Cardizem, Dilacor XR, Tiazac), as well as grapefruit.

Q.I suffer from jock itch every summer. The skin on my inner thigh and groin turns red and then brown. It is uncomfortable, especially when I exercise. My doctor prescribed Lamisil, which worked well but is expensive. A tube costs almost $50. I have noticed that Lamisil is now available over the counter. A tiny tube costs $11. That is still steep, but a lot cheaper than the prescription-strength cream. Is there any difference? If not, why is there such a big price gap?

A.Lamisil AT is 1 percent terbinafine and costs less than $1 per gram. It is identical to prescription Lamisil cream, which costs more than $3 per gram. It is not unusual for medications to be more affordable when they become available off the shelf. Tagamet HB and Zantac 75 were also substantially less expensive than their prescription counterparts.

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King Features Syndicate

Pub Date: 06/27/99

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