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Flaherty reveals he has disfiguring skin ailment

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OTTAWA -- Cabinet colleagues and opposition MPs alike offered Jim Flaherty earnest get-well wishes Thursday after the finance minister disclosed having been diagnosed with a rare skin disorder that has altered his appearance.

"Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying on behalf of all of us in the House, we wish the minister of finance well and a speedy recovery," NDP finance critic Peggy Nash said to rousing applause during question period.

Flaherty -- whose marked weight gain and puffy face had been fuelling rumours on Parliament Hill -- decided to go public in the Globe and Mail after fielding questions from colleagues and others about his health.

"Minister Flaherty has disclosed that he is undergoing treatment for a non-life-threatening, but serious dermatological condition known as bullous pemphigoid," spokesman Dan Miles said in an email.

Bullous pemphigoid is a rare blistering skin disorder that can produce lesions on parts of the body.

Flaherty, 63, has been prescribed a steroid called prednisone to help clear up the condition, which carries with it side-effects such as bloating, weight gain and redness of the skin. It's also possible Flaherty may suffer from bouts of sleeplessness as a result of taking the drug.

"The minister says the condition is clearing up and he is hopeful his appearance will return to normal in the near future," said Miles, repeating Flaherty's own insistence the treatment won't affect his ability to do his job.

"Minister Flaherty will continue carrying out his day-to-day responsibilities and will not be commenting further on his condition."

Asked if he knew why it took Flaherty so long to make his condition known, Treasury Board President Tony Clement defended his fellow minister, saying he has a right to keep his health condition to himself.

"As long as we feel we're doing our job, then there is a part of our lives that should be private and personal," said Clement, who added circumstances would be different had Flaherty been unable to carry out his duties.

"If you are debilitated, that kind of would be noticed, and there would be a legitimate question," he said. "But that is not the case here."

In the Globe interview, Flaherty said he informed Prime Minister Stephen Harper of his condition and treatment before Christmas.

The minister's cabinet colleagues were quick Thursday to wish Flaherty a full recovery.

"I was very pleased to learn that his condition does not in any way impact his ability to do his job or to fulfil his commitment to Canadians," said Heritage Minister James Moore.

-- The Canadian Press

Quick facts on condition

TORONTO -- Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has revealed he is suffering from a skin condition called bullous pemphigoid.

Some facts about the rare ailment:

WHAT IT IS: A skin condition that causes large fluid-filled blisters to form on the skin. The blisters, called bullae, typically form on the trunk, thighs, arms, in the groin and armpits and sometimes in the mouth. The blisters often form at creases in the skin. They can break open and form open sores or ulcers. Skin infections can result.

THE SYMPTOMS: In addition to the blisters, symptoms can include severe itching, rashes and bleeding gums.

THE CAUSE: Unknown. It is an auto-immune condition that occurs when the immune system attacks a thin layer of tissue under the outer layer of the skin. While a trigger isn't generally identified, some cases are linked to previous use of some medications or exposure to UV-light therapy or radiation treatment for cancer.

WHO GETS IT: It is mainly seen in people over 60. Though rare, the risk of developing the condition rises with age.

THE TREATMENT: Doctors often prescribe corticosteroids; Flaherty is on one, prednisone.

-- sources: Mayo Clinic, PubMed Health

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2013 A12

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