Supergerm difficult but not impossible to treat


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a dear friend of 20 years who recently had surgery to repair a twisted colon. She socializes with our group. In asking her how she was recovering, she informed us that she was taking antibiotics for MRSA. Not knowing about MRSA, I went to my computer for information. Needless to say, it frightened me. I no longer want to be in her company, as I have a family to consider. I don’t think her doctor has made her aware of this very contagious infection. Will you please write about it? I do not want to hurt this dear friend. — Anon.

ANSWER: MRSA, pronounced “mur-suh,” stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the common staph bacterium, found all over the place. Its story goes like this. When penicillin was first discovered, it was an effective drug against the staph germ. In time, the germ learned how to dodge penicillin. Resourceful scientists devised a new penicillin, methicillin, which is effective against the resistant staph. All went well for a time, but the staph germ devised new ways to evade methicillin. It became methicillin-resistant.

MRSA used to be confined to hospitals. Now it’s found in the community. It’s hard to avoid. You’ve probably encountered it many times, but never came down with an infection. It needs a cut, scrape or some other breach in the skin to establish an infection. Your friend’s surgical incision is where her infection is. You are not exposed to the infection site. Her doctor would not have let her appear in public if she were a threat of spreading MRSA. You don’t have to avoid her.

Treatment of MRSA infection is a challenge. A few older antibiotics kill it, and new ones are available if they’re needed.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am an 86-year-old widow. My doctor wants me to have a colonoscopy. I have severe arthritis in my spine and am hesitant to have this done. The gastroenterologist said that in older people, the procedure sometimes nicks the bowel and causes bigger problems. What do you think? — D.R.

ANSWER: The recommendation is that everyone at age 50 have a colonoscopy. If nothing is found, a repeat isn’t necessary for 10 years. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel of experts, says it’s OK to stop colonoscopies at age 75 if the person has no symptoms suggestive of colon cancer and if that person’s previous colonoscopies have been normal.

What the gastroenterologist told you is true. The procedure is a greater risk for older people. You have never had a colonoscopy. That puts you in a different light. However, if you are reluctant and if your arthritis is so bad that the procedure would be quite difficult, then accommodations have to be made. The doctor can perform other tests for colon cancer detection — checking your stool for blood or performing a less-demanding test, like a sigmoidoscopy. Talk to the gastroenterologist about substitute tests.

The booklet on colon cancer discusses how it’s detected and treated. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 505, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. 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. DONOHUE: I read your article on hyperemesis gravidarum, which I had. I’d like to give you a Web site that was very helpful to me. I was able to speak with other moms who were dealing with it. It is — J.Z.

ANSWER: Many pregnant women have morning sickness. A few women develop hyperemesis gravidarum, severe vomiting with weight loss and dehydration. It’s a threat to the health of the woman and the fetus. Intravenous feedings supply hydration and nutrition. I wasn’t aware of the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation. You’re right. The Web site offers useful information. Readers will appreciate that you alerted us to it.

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. Readers may also order health newsletters from