Cleanup procedures after hep C accident spills blood

By KEITH ROACH, M.D.

Dear Dr. Roach: I have a friend who has hepatitis C. While normally this doesn’t really have much effect on our relationship, the other day he forgot some basic health rules, which has left me, admittedly, upset with him.

He accidentally cut his finger, which wouldn’t have been a big deal, but he was way too careless, missing drops of blood on the floor and even rinsing off his bloody finger in the kitchen sink, where there were dishes.

I heard that hepatitis C is really only passed on from blood to blood, but I also read that the virus can live for weeks outside the body, so I’m unsure if my cleanup process was overkill or not enough. Looking up information online has been confusing or unhelpful, and my mom is still wondering if we should just throw out the dishes.

I stepped in the dried blood when I found it, and wiped it away with rubbing alcohol (which was past the expiration date), then sprayed the area with Lysol (I was not wearing gloves when I did this). The dishes were soaked in a mixture of one part bleach to 10 parts hot water, then washed in that mixture, soaked some more, washed again in that mixture and left to air-dry before finally being washed in soap and water. The sink was washed thoroughly with the same mixture, then with soap and water.

Written down, it sounds extreme, but my mother is concerned and I would like to know what to do if it happens again. — M.P.

Answer: I can understand your concern. Hepatitis C is hardy, and can live for days even when dry. Cleaning with a dilute bleach solution (10 percent bleach is best: one part bleach to nine parts water) is very effective at disinfecting. Rubbing alcohol and most home cleaners like Lysol are not.

You can reassure your mom that hepatitis C is not passed by eating with the same utensils or plates as someone with hepatitis C. There is no need to discard your plates or utensils.

The booklet on hepatitis explains the three different kinds. Readers can obtain a copy by writing:

Dr. Roach

Book No. 503

628 Virginia Dr.

Orlando, FL 32803

Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

Dear Dr. Roach: I am 75, female and in generally good health. I am a little overweight, but I have never been diagnosed with arthritis, diabetes or a neurological disorder. I walk a lot and am otherwise quite active, although I don’t have a formal fitness routine. For months I have been a little more wobbly when I walk, so I guess I am developing balance problems. Then this past week I have had weakness and pain, especially in one knee. When I get out of bed, I can barely stand or walk without having something to hang on to, and I shuffle along stiffly, feet dragging, etc. Symptoms ease after I get moving, but might recur after I have been sitting for a while.

I am not ready to feel old yet! Can I do physical therapy now to avoid knee replacement, etc., later? Can you recommend a website or book with exercises I can do for balance and knee health, or do I need to see a doctor? — Anon.

Answer : You need to see a doctor. Your condition has gotten worse quickly, and I don’t know why. You need a thorough exam. The shuffling you describe could be Parkinson’s disease or a similar neurological disorder. Vitamin D deficiency can cause weakness and unsteadiness. I recommend physical therapy very, very frequently, but you need to have a diagnosis in order to help the therapist work with you properly.

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Dr. Roach regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but will incorporate them in the column whenever possible. Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu or request an order form of available health newsletters at 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Health newsletters may be ordered from www.rbmamall.com.