QUESTION: Is hemochromatosis a new problem? My boss has it, and is quite ill. He hasn't looked good for at least a year. We were astounded to hear he had this rare illness. - Mrs. K.U.

ANSWER: Hemochromatosis is not a rare illness. Nor is it new. We have known about this iron storage disease for years, but recent research has uncovered some new things about it, like its inheritance, etc. Thus, it is being diagnosed today in people who might otherwise have lived shorter lives without early diagnosis.It is one of the more common inherited illnesses, in fact. Perhaps your boss found out about the problem quite late in life. Tragically, that is a common occurrence, for if it is found before organ damage occurs, hemochromatosis can be well controlled.

Normally, the body knows how much iron it needs and gets rid of excess from the digestive tract. In hemochromatosis, there is an absorption breakdown and iron begins collecting in various organs, chiefly the liver, heart, pancreas, joints and skin.

Treatment is to rid the body of the excess iron. Periodic blood removal is one possible answer when the problem is discovered early enough. Perhaps you could put your boss in touch with Dr. Margaret Krikker, founder of the Hemochromatosis Foundation. Send an SASE to P.O. Box 8569, Albany, NY 12208. Because of the inheritance factor, other family members of patients should be checked for hemochromatosis.

QUESTION: I recently was diagnosed as having morphea. My dermatologist said it was an inflammation of the skin, but doesn't know what causes it. He prescribed Kenalog. Do you know anything more? - J.K.R.

ANSWER: Your dermatologist is not alone in his ignorance of cause. No one knows what causes morphea, which is a variant of scleroderma. With morphea, patches of skin become hard and thick. In time, the patch loses some of its pigment and gets lighter in color than surrounding skin.

Most patients have one or only a few of these morphea patches, as opposed to scleroderma, where there can be widespread occurrence and damage to internal organs. Morphea does not involve body organs.

QUESTION: I've got to know about AIDS right away. Say that someone tests positive. How long before he becomes sick? And what should he do in the meantime? - O.L.

ANSWER: Let's go over it again. The time from testing positive to actually coming down with the illness is anywhere from seven to 11 years. When you know you are positive, you know you are harboring the virus, so you have to do everything to avoid spreading it. You should engage only in sexual practices that minimize transmission of the virus, commonly known as "safer sex," having those methods spelled out by a health professional.

That's just common humane concern. For yourself, you have to establish a close relationship with a doctor so that you can be monitored to see how your immune system is faring. When lab tests indicate that immunity is flagging, the doctor can start you on medicine, well before overt symptoms occur.

You seem to me to be a person, who, if you have tested positive, needs the kind of medical relationship I mentioned. Education about AIDS doesn't end once you have a positive test. You have to learn ways to stay as healthy as possible, how to keep your immune system perking as well as possible.