Queries from readers

Is there a vaccine that prevents cancer?

Yes, there is. It’s called Gardasil, a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer, found to be “effective 100 percent, in the short term, at blocking the cancer and lesions likely to turn to cancer” (like the pre-invasive lesions), according to drug manufacturer, Merck & Co. The vaccine, which is genetically engineered, blocks infection caused by two of the more than 100 types of human papillomavirus (HPV), strains 16 and 18. These two sexually transmitted viruses are responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancers. The vaccine also cuts down infection with HPV 6 and 11, the causes of 90 percent of genital warts. HPV, in one form or the other, afflicts about 20 million Americans. The vaccine is given to children 9 years and older, before they become sexually active, including boys, who could be silent carriers of the virus.

Are organic foods totally safe?

Organic fruits and vegetables, eggs and meats, are those food items where no chemicals, like insecticides or antibiotics, etc, have been used while growing them or preparing them. In that respect, they are better (albeit more expensive for the obvious reason). But if and when they are contaminated after they are harvested or prepared, then they would also cause a gastrointestinal disorder. Therefore, even if they are organic, we must wash them properly and cook them well, especially chicken and pork.

Are female tampons safe?

If used properly, yes, the new tampons are fairly safe. In 1978, a worldwide phenomenon called Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) was first described, with symptoms ranging from high fever, skin rash, fall in blood pressure, severe eye infection, headaches, disorientation, joint and muscle pains, diarrhea and kidney failure. The victims were females (average age 23) who had their normal menstrual periods. A number of deaths from TSS have been reported. Implicated was the use of super-absorbency tampons, which acted as a culture medium for the staphylococcal infection in the vagina. The longer the tampon was left in the vagina, the greater the risk. The toxin or poison produced by the staphylococci caused the serious illness described above. Most patients recovered after appropriate treatment of intravenous fluids and antibiotics, but at a later stage lost the skin of their palms and soles, the face and even the tongue. The mortality rate for TSS is about 2 or 3 percent. Tampons should be changed three to four times a day, even if not fully stained to prevent TSS. This makes it a bit too expensive. A time-proven safer alternative is the use of sanitary pads.

Does virgin coconut oil lower cholesterol?

There is no convincing scientific evidence that virgin coconut oil lowers blood cholesterol, much less being better than US-FDA approved cholesterol-lowering pills, like the Statins. While coconut oil may be fantastic as a hair lotion or skin moisturizer, it is not medically accepted as a health food, even in its so-called virgin form. And this goes through with the dozens of herbal medications, “food supplements and health drinks” out in the market with unfounded claims that they lower cholesterol, etc., and are good for umpteen number of diseases, including arthritis, Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

Does Glaucoma lead to blindness?

I referred this question to Emily Chua Greenlee, M.D., Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, University of Iowa, who specializes in glaucoma. In the U of I website, the authors stated that of the 67 million people with glaucoma around the world (2.2 million of them in the United States), the incidence of total bilateral blindness from glaucoma ranged between 4 percent and 22 percent, depending on a variety of medical factors and conditions among these patients. On top of the initial eye check during childhood for error of refraction and eyeglass fitting where needed, it is prudent for a young person between the ages 20-29 to have at least on eye check during that interval. For those who are 30 and older, a visit to the eye doctor every two to four years is prudent to rule out glaucoma, among other eye conditions. For those 40-64, every two to four years; and 65 and over, every one to two years. For those with glaucoma, the ophthalmologist will customize the schedule of follow-up visits. For more information, go to www.medrounds.org/glaucoma-guide and click on “More About a Patients Guide to Glaucoma.”

Can one survive on a vegetarian diet?

Most definitely, yes. There are hundreds of millions of vegetarians around the world, who are living on healthy diets. Most of them include beans, nuts, grains, eggs, and a multivitamin-mineral supplement with the vegetables and fruits they eat three meals a day. The incidence of elevated blood cholesterol, metabolic illnesses, heart attack, stroke, and cancer among these vegetarians is quite low compared to those who regularly eat red meats, like pork and beef, etc.

I have cut down from two packs to six cigarettes a day. Am I now safe?

No, not quite, but you’re almost there. Congratulations for cutting down to six sticks a day. That takes great determination and a strong will power. However, one stick of this poison is still poison, and one stick too many. A person who swallows a spoonful of poison is no smarter or safer than one who drinks a glass of it. Since you were able to drastically cut down your smoking, the wisest thing to do is to maintain the momentum and inertia of your resolve, and cut down your cigarettes to zero, as soon as you can.

Can handrails transmit germs?

Most definitely, yes. Handrails and doorknobs in public places — such as shopping malls and restaurants — can be touched by hundreds, if not, thousands of hands daily and are loaded with germs. If swab specimens are taken from these items and culture tested in the laboratory, they will reveal micro-organisms galore, and viruses included. Paper money or coins, which have been through hundreds or thousands of hands, can also harbor various “bugs” that can cause infection.  All these and dozens of other “public items” are potential sources of infections, like common cold, influenza, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis, acne, sore eyes, skin infections, etc. This is why avoiding touching these as much as possible, and washing the hands many times a day, can significantly reduce your chances of developing an infection from them.


Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA,  a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com

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