We are bombarded daily by ads on television and in newspapers and magazines telling us about new prescription drugs that drug companies say will better heal whatever is ailing us. And almost always, they end with, “Ask your doctor about (put name of drug here).” This can be a good and bad thing.

Normally, drug companies have gone straight to physicians to talk about the benefits of their medications. Now, they are hoping you will pester your physician into prescribing a certain medication.

I just have a couple of precautions. On one hand, I think it’s a good thing to ask your doctor about a new medication, particularly if the one you are taking is not as effective as you’d like. On the other hand, just because a pharmaceutical company says something is new and improved, doesn’t make it so. So, talk with your physician about the efficacy of any new medication before you head down that road. Don’t set yourself up as a guinea pig for every new drug that comes out.

Q: I’m 14 and I don’t want to tell my parents because they’ll know I’m having sex, but I have a urinary tract infection. I don’t know what to do. My friends say Alka-Seltzer can cure a urinary tract infection.

A: First, you should never hide medical conditions from your parents. I don’t know the particulars in this case, but I know this. Your parents may be upset with you initially, but they are much, much more concerned about your health than something you may have done wrong. Besides, urinary tract infections aren’t necessarily associated with sex. The answer to your question is no. The idea is that by alkalizing the urine, the sodium bicarbonate in Alka-Seltzer will inhibit some types of bacteria from growing in the bladder. Studies have failed to show any benefit of sodium bicarbonate for treatment of urinary tract infections. If you are experiencing frequent urination or pain when urinating, see your doctor right away. Improperly treating urinary tract infection can lead to things much more serious, like kidney infection.

Q: I’m allergic to shellfish. Folks tell me that means I also need to stay away from iodine.

A: Contrary to popular belief, allergies to iodine and allergies to fish or shellfish are not related. Seafood allergy was thought to be caused by the high content of iodine in fish, but it’s not. Instead, it’s actually due to specific proteins in fish and shellfish that have nothing to do with iodine. So, you can relax.

Q: Can you please settle a dispute? My cousin refuses to take any vaccines because her pastor told her they are all made from aborted fetuses. I told her that’s not true, and that she’s leaving herself open to some deadly diseases. What’s the real story?

A: Yes, and no. No fetuses are being aborted in order to develop vaccines. But let’s back up a second. Vaccines were developed and saving millions of lives long before the phrase “aborted fetuses” entered the vocabulary, beginning in 1796. Today, vaccines are made in the same manner that has been used for decades by using millions of fertilized chicken eggs to grow the virus. This method has produced pretty much every known vaccine that we know of including smallpox, cholera, rabies, tetanus, typhoid fever, bubonic, influenza and polio to name a few. The vaccine is grown in vats and then purified. It’s then ready to be injected in the egg and allowed to grow for use in vaccines. It currently takes five or six months to make vaccines using chicken eggs. So about 50 drug companies are experimenting with newer methods for making vaccines cells harvested from humans and caterpillars. There are some companies that are producing vaccines grown from cells from several sources, including one from an aborted fetus more than 40 years ago.

Q: If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times, don’t drink alcohol while you are taking antibiotics.

A: It is true that patients should avoid alcohol while on certain antibiotics, including Flagyl, Tindamax, cefazolin, cefmetazole, cefoperazon and cefotetan. These drugs when taken with alcohol may cause upset stomach and blood pressure changes, this is particularly true with Flagyl. This is because these drugs may inhibit the metabolism of alcohol, causing a build-up of acetaldehyde, a toxic by-product. In general, these reactions are rare, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Additionally, you should avoid alcohol for two to three days after therapy to ensure that the drug is completely out of your system.
Taking other antibiotics and having a couple of drinks will not interact with their medication or lessen the effectiveness of the antibiotic.

Do you have questions about your medication, concerns about a friend’s or relative’s prescription or just want to keep up with the latest developments? In that case, ask syndicated columnist Dr. Daphne Bernard, a doctor of pharmacy and a registered pharmacist in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. She is assistant dean and associate professor at the Howard University School of Pharmacy and a member of numerous boards and associations, including the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, the District of Columbia Board of Pharmacy, the Nonprescription Medicines Academy, Rho Chi Honor Society, American Pharmacists Association and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, Please email her at questions@askyourpharmacistrx.com


Dr. Daphne Bernard

Special to the AFRO