A Question of Health

Is it unhealthy to eat duck eggs every day? Why did I pay so much for the morning-after pill? And is my son too old to have a mumps jab?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Cracking breakfast

Cracking breakfast

Q. I have recently taken to eating one fried duck egg a day for breakfast. Is there any risk in doing this? Is there too much fat in them to eat them so often? What about cholesterol? And am I right to presume that there isn't the risk of salmonella that supposedly comes with hens' eggs?

A. Duck eggs are richer than hens' eggs. They contain about 20 per cent more calories and about 10 per cent more fat. They also have more calcium and iron than hens' eggs and much higher levels of vitamins, especially vitamin B12. The majority of the fat in both hens' and duck eggs is unsaturated, although both types of eggs do contain about 3g of saturated fat per 100g. When it comes to cholesterol, duck eggs contain about 50 per cent more than hens' eggs. A recent survey of salmonella in hens' eggs showed that only about one box per 100 is contaminated with salmonella. Unfortunately, the survey did not look at duck eggs. But, historically, duck eggs have been known to carry salmonella, so I presume that the risk is still there. All of the eggs that were contaminated by salmonella had the bacteria on the shell and not inside the egg. So it is worthwhile being careful when handling eggs when you are cooking.

Bitter pill

Q. I have recently taken the morning-after pill Levonelle. It was impossible for me to get a doctor's appointment, so I bought the pill over the counter at a chemist, where it cost me £25. When I protested about the high cost - it would have been free if I had been able to get a doctor's prescription - I was told that £25 was the actual cost of the pill. Is this true? Is there any way of getting a refund if I get a prescription and take it to the chemist?

A. Levonelle is the emergency contraceptive pill that you can buy at pharmacies without a prescription if you are over 16 years old. It consists of a single pill that can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. The same contraceptive is available for free from GPs, family-planning clinics, sexual-health clinics and even some casualty departments. I agree that £25 seems an exceptionally high price for a single pill that essentially contains a cheap ingredient called levonorgestrel. According to the British National Formulary, the NHS pays the manufacturers, Schering Health, only £5.50 for the same product. The price of over-the-counter Levonelle has been increased by a whopping 25 per cent since 2002, when it cost £20. I doubt that you will be able to get a refund, because I doubt that a doctor would issue a prescription for something that you have already taken. Levonelle works best if it is taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex, so if you need to use it again, try to get hold of a prescription. Some doctors are willing to let you have a prescription in advance, just in case you need it. Don't be afraid to ask.

Mature student

Q. My son's university hall of residence is going through a mumps epidemic. My son is 21 years old and I don't think that he was ever immunised against mumps. Is he too old to have a mumps jab now? And if he can have one now, how long would it take to become effective?

A. Mumps immunisation was introduced in the UK in 1988 as part of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. Before 1988, children in the UK were not routinely immunised against mumps, so it is possible that your son missed out on the MMR because he was a bit too old when it was introduced. The reason that there is a mini-epidemic of mumps at universities this year is because there are quite a few students who did not receive MMR as babies. But it's not too late. Your son could have an MMR jab and it will begin to protect him within days. Within a couple of weeks, he should be fully protected. Even if he has already had the measles and rubella jabs as a baby, there is no harm in having another dose. Mumps is usually not very serious, but it can cause quite a lot of discomfort. Men sometimes get orchitis - inflammation of the testicles - and this can even lead to reduced fertility. Mumps can also cause deafness, so there are several reasons why your son may want to get immunised now.

Have your say: Readers write

Advice for the lady with red-rimmed eyes, from GD of Kent:

Use a tea-tree oil facewash instead of soap, and a tea-tree oil based shower gel or shampoo for your hair. Also, avoid any action (eg, picking nose followed by rubbing eyes; drying nose followed by eyes after washing) that might transfer infection from the nose to the eyes. This has worked for me after years of exactly what you describe.

And another suggestion from JH:

I, too, suffered from blepharitis for many years, but I am now free of the condition. Avoid shampoos containing sodium lauryl sulphate - even many anti-dandruff shampoos contain this harsh chemical detergent - and use plant-based products instead, such as those available from Good Earth. I also clean my lids thoroughly at night with a gentle eye make-up remover, even though I do not actually wear eye makeup. I have found that the Boots Natural Collection Cucumber and Eye Bright eye make-up remover is good.

FH knows how to avoid saddle soreness from cycling:

I suggest that a simple solution for your correspondent is to ride a recumbent cycle. One of the many advantages of recumbent cycles is that there is no pressure on the perineal area. Google for "recumbents" on the internet, and explore the links. At 59, I commute recumbently 24 miles a day, and ride 200km events monthly, with virtually no side effects, other than considerable pleasure and maintained stamina.

Send your questions and suggestions to A Question of Health, 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2182; or e-mail health@independent.co.uk.

Dr Kavalier regrets that he is unable to respond personally to questions