Q. Is there a point when herpes stops being contagious? I was diagnosed with herpes 15 years ago. I stopped having vaginal outbreaks after I started taking Valtrex daily. Because I was worried about long-term use of this anti-viral drug, I stopped taking it a year ago, and have had no subsequent symptoms.
Since I stopped taking the medicine my husband has become concerned that he may get the virus. If I have had no outbreaks for six years, can he still get herpes from intercourse? What is the long term effect of taking Valtrex? Is there any research that suggests that taking Valtrex can prevent your partner from getting herpes?
A. There is no cure for herpes, and it can remain contagious, even without outbreaks, for years. But by taking Valtrex you reduce the chance that your husband will contract this viral infection.
A study presented in September demonstrated that daily Valtrex cut the risk of transmitting herpes in half, from 4 percent to 2 percent. The couples in the study were also told to use condoms.
No serious adverse effects of taking Valtrex for a long time have been reported. The most common side effects noted include nausea and headache.
Q. I am 57 years old and have been taking Prempro for five years because I am considered at high risk for osteoporosis. My doctor recently suggested that I should stop the Prempro and start taking Evista instead. He said it would help my bones while protecting me from breast cancer.
As soon as I stopped Prempro and started on Evista I began to experience horrible hot flashes. I am now back on Prempro. Are there any alternatives to HRT for hot flashes and osteoporosis? My sister takes Fosamax and I wonder how it compares.
A. Stopping Prempro or other hormone therapy suddenly can lead to hot flashes. In addition, Evista has some anti-estrogen activity. This may explain why it helps protect women from breast cancer, but also why it can trigger hot flashes.
Fosamax may cause nausea, heartburn or constipation, but not hot flashes. Like Evista, it helps prevent further bone breakdown. Your doctor can tell you whether Fosamax or a similar drug would be appropriate.
We are sending you our Guides to Estrogen and Osteoporosis which have information on these drugs and natural approaches to coping with hot flashes. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped (60 cents), self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. WU-52, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.
Q. I have tried almost every nonprescription product for occasional acid reflux, and have also taken Prilosec. Nothing works as quickly and dependably as plain baking soda in water.
I’ve been told that regular use of this remedy can be harmful but a medical newsletter I read recommends it. If it is not good to use regularly, can you use it occasionally?
A. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is one of the cheapest, fastest and most effective antacids available. It has been used to relieve heartburn for more than 100 years.
Its one drawback is a high sodium content. For salt-sensitive individuals, this can raise blood pressure. That’s why baking soda should be reserved for occasional use.

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