Question: I enjoy fairly good health but get colds a couple of times a year. How likely am I to contract SARS?
G.S., Cape Canaveral, Florida
Answer: There is really very little known about Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) at this time. The preliminary information that has surfaced is theoretical, but research efforts are under way to determine cause and treatment.
One thing we do know: SARS is contagious; therefore, avoiding contact with it is fundamental to not contracting it. Currently it is believed that people are at risk only when they come in close contact with someone who has the virus. If you are living with or caring for someone with SARS, your probability of contracting it is obviously much higher, especially if you come in contact with the person's body fluids or respiratory secretions.
The primary symptoms for this virus include a high fever and dry cough or difficulty in breathing. Other symptoms such as body aches, loss of appetite, rash, headache and diarrhea also could indicate that the SARS virus is present in the body. Because the best form of treatment is still to be determined, prevention is the most important key to keeping yourself from contracting the virus.
To practice prevention, you should avoid direct contact with people who have the above-mentioned symptoms. You should practice good hygiene. You should maintain a healthy immune system. If you are not doing this already or don't know how to, then I suggest you study the basic guidelines for living healthfully and try to practice them in your own life--they will be quite useful for keeping your natural defenses high.
I don't want to minimize the negative impact that SARS may have on world health, but I do suggest that it is more of a media event than a high health risk at this time. I would also like to remind you that heart disease is still the No. 1 killer in the United States, followed by cancer.
Even though SARS is the new illness on the block and has everyone panicked, you should be more concerned about the health of your heart and whether you are at risk for other diseases. Adopting a healthful lifestyle will lower your risk of having cardiovascular illness, cancer and SARS.
You do not have to fall victim to illness. You can be proactive about preserving your own health, as well as your family's. Study some of the many resources available by reading health books or by gathering information from the Internet. Then do what's most important: Apply the knowledge to your daily living.
Question: The old childhood saying "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" had its place. Now, as an adult, I'm wondering, do prayer and faith have medicinal value?
A.C., Chicago, Illinois
Answer: From a biblical standpoint, prayer and faith are truly the way to experience God's healing power. I will allow the theologians to debate whether or not prayer and faith have intrinsic healing power. What I will tell you is, people who incorporate religious practices into their lives do fare better when ill.
According to hundreds of clinical trials, prayer and faith indeed demonstrate healing effects. Whether this is the result of divine healing or a phenomenon is debated by many.
What is beyond controversy, however, is the fact that prayer is a wonderful relaxation technique. Relaxation relieves stress. When stress decreases, immune responses increase and healing begins.
For 40 years we have prayed with our patients at my hospital, Oasis of Hope. We see how important it is to help them overcome the fear of cancer. Prayer and faith help them release anxieties and are therefore a vital part of recovery.
In our desire to have a positive impact beyond our hospital, we initiated the Worldwide Cancer Prayer Day, being celebrated on June 5 (see related article on page 17). We also take prayer requests from around the world at www.cancerprayerday.org because we believe in the medicinal value of prayer.
I'll conclude my answer with this--prayer is the only therapy that is free, nontoxic and effective at very great distances!
Francisco Contreras, M.D., oversees Oasis of Hope Hospital (www.oasisofhope.com), a cancer-care facility in Mexico widely known for alternative-treatment methods. He is the author of several books on health, including his newest, The Coming Cancer Cure (SiloamPress, www.charismahouse.com).
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