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Supergerms demand respect, but not fear



DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have heard a lot about MRSA. Can you give me some more information about it? What can we do to prevent getting it? I am a student at San Jacinto High School in California. — J.R.

ANSWER: “MRSA” is short for “methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus,” a common bacterium found all over the place and a common inhabitant of the skin. “MRSA” is pronounced “mersa,” as though it were a word.

In the early days of penicillin, it could kill many germs, including the staph germ. That germ is a wily creature. It soon learned how to dodge the killing power of penicillin. Clever scientists came up with a new model of penicillin called methicillin. It was effective against those resistant staph germs. This happy situation came to an end when staph learned how to evade methicillin. These are the MRSA bacteria.

We do have antibiotics that can deal with MRSA bacteria. However, the lesson is that antibiotics must be restricted only to infections by bacteria that respond to them. Using antibiotics indiscriminately paves the way for the development of resistance.

MRSA can cause all kinds of infections, but the most common are skin and soft-tissue infections. Soft tissues are the tissues just below the skin, the subcutaneous tissues. Outbreaks of MRSA infections are common in high-school football players and wrestlers because of the skin-to-skin contact that occurs in those sports. Anyone, athlete or not, can come down with this infection.

Frequent hand-washing is the best defense against MRSA. All skin wounds should be covered with a bandage of sterile, dry gauze and inspected daily to see if they are becoming infected. Athletes should launder their playing clothes after each use and should not store dirty clothes in a locker. They should shower immediately after a practice. No one should share towels, brushes or combs.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My mother’s neighbor “candles” her ears when they fill with wax. I am not acquainted with this procedure. My mother believes it is an excellent treatment, and she won’t discuss it with me. What is your opinion? — H.M.

ANSWER: My opinion on candling gets me in trouble with aficionados of the practice. It involves inserting the narrow end of a cone-shaped device into the ear canal. The other end is lit. Heat is supposed to soften the wax and create a vacuum that draws it out of the ear.

I think it is dangerous. The FDA doesn’t approve of it.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have gotten in the habit of taking Tylenol before seeing my dentist. I have a phobia about needles, and seeing the dentist come at me with a syringe puts me in a cold sweat. I have it in my mind that the jab will be painful. Taking the Tylenol works for me. Is there anything wrong with doing this? — R.C.

ANSWER: There’s nothing wrong with taking a Tylenol before seeing the dentist. If it gets you through what you imagine might be painful, three cheers for Tylenol.

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 or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

©2009 North America Synd.

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