Health: A Question of Health

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Someone at my son's school has chickenpox. If he gets it, how long will he be contagious?

Chickenpox usually appears about 14 days after contact with someone who has it. It starts gradually, with pink spots that quickly turn into small blisters. Over about a week, the blisters dry up and form scabs, before disappearing completely.

Children are most contagious in the first few days, and when the spots are dry the virus has gone. Nearly all children end up getting it, even though schools don't let children with chickenpox return. If your son does get it, try to persuade the school to let him go back as soon as the spots are beginning to dry up.

I am going to have my gall bladder removed later this year owing to gall stones. The surgeon has offered me a choice of keyhole surgery or a standard operation. What do you recommend?

Keyhole surgery to remove the gall bladder - technically known as laparoscopic cholecystectomy - is now popular among surgeons and patients.

Patients recover from the keyhole op much more quickly and are left with just a couple of tiny scars, usually less than an inch long. I have seen patients back to normal in days, rather than weeks.

But the risk of complications can be higher, particularly if the surgeon lacks experience. If yours is properly trained, I see no reason why you shouldn't choose a keyhole operation.

I take Dianette - which is both a contraceptive pill and a treatment for acne. Is it safe to take for many years?

Dianette contains both oestrogen (present in most contraceptive pills) and cyproterone acetate - unique to Dianette. Cyproterone blocks the effects of naturally occurring male hormones; women with bad acne tend to have high levels of these hormones.

Dianette's makers advise that the drug should be stopped when the acne's fully resolved, usually within about six months. Many doctors are ready to prescribe Dianette for longer periods, and there's no evidence this is harmful.

It is particularly important to stop taking Dianette if you may be pregnant.

Please send your questions to A Question of Health, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182; or e-mail them to health@independent.co.uk. Dr Kavalier regrets he is unable to reply personally to questions

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