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`PIGEON-FANCIER’S DISEASE’ IS ALLERGIC REACTION

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Question: I raise pigeons, and I recently got "pigeon-fancier's disease." Is this like histoplasmosis or ornithosis? Am I immune now? Are there tests and treatments? I'm in the dark.

- F.T.Answer: Each of the three illnesses you mention is distinct, with its own origin, outlook and treatment. We have tests for each.

I'll take the three problems one at a time:

- Pigeon-fancier's disease, also called "bird-breeder's lung," is an allergic reaction to breathed-in particles of cage droppings or feathers. Pneumonia follows, with coughing and shortness of breath as evidence of lung inflammation.

You need to avoid the allergy cause, perhaps with a special ventilated helmet that provides a supply of fresh air.

Pigeon-fancier's disease can recur.

- Histoplasmosis is fungal in origin, the fungus breathed in from particles of the soil in which it grows. Again, mild to severe lung symptoms follow infection.

The infected person might be somewhat resistant to a second histoplasmosis infection, but there are no guarantees.

- Ornithosis, also called "psittacosis" or "parrot fever," involves chlamydia, a bacterialike germ found in sick parrots, parakeets and similar birds. Again, lung symptoms dominate.

Patients should report the disease to public health officials. Infected birds are destroyed so they can't infect other birds.

Because chlamydia is a cousin to a bacterium, antibiotics - specifically tetracycline - help.

One infection confers no future protection.

Question: I had a heart bypass operation in 1991. I was put on Lopressor. My cardiologist wants me to stay on the medicine, but my regular physician seems to think I don't need it. My blood pressure readings have been fine. What's your opinion?

- R.R.

Answer: Did you have a heart attack prior to the bypass? I ask because Lopressor, a beta-blocker drug, has been found to lower mortality after a heart attack and to avoid second attacks. But in addition, beta blockers can lower blood pressure. Perhaps it is accounting for your nice pressure numbers.

I must say that the effectiveness of the drug specifically in post-bypass settings is not known for certain.

I don't see why you should not be privy to each doctor's contradicting opinion.

Question: Is there any truth to the saying that too much bathing weakens the body? They say the skin helps us take in certain vitamins. Does showering wash away nutrients? How much bathing is too much?

- E.W.

Answer: I'd hate to think that you have been losing sleep over the irrational notion that bathing is bad for health. You are not the first to ask, though.

You should bathe as often as you need to - as infrequently as once a week or as often as daily.

About the only bad thing I can think of as a consequence of overbathing is skin discomfort. I'd define overbathing as that which leaves the skin uncomfortably dry and itchy.

No matter how much you bathe, you do not wash away body nutrients.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him at P.O. Box 5539, Riverton, NJ 08077-5539.