DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband recently passed away. He was diagnosed as having MRSA. I have never heard of this disease, and cannot find it in my medical dictionary. Would you please explain what it is? How is it contracted? What precautions are needed to keep caregivers from getting it? – J.T.

MRSA, pronounced “mersa,” stands for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus (STAFF-uh-low-KOK-us) aureus. Let’s shorten “staphylococcus” to “staph” (staff). It’s a bacterium, a germ. You can’t escape coming into contact with it. It’s everywhere. Many people harbor it in the lower part of their noses and don’t get sick from it. They can, however, transfer it to their fingers and hands and pass it on to others. Frequently, from other sources, staph lands on our skin and we don’t get sick. However, staph is the cause of boils and of many other skin infections. If it penetrates through the skin, it can infect deep organs like the heart. When it gets into the blood, it can be deadly. Precautions consist in frequent but not obsessive hand-washing, regular changing of washcloths and towels, and cleansing of all cuts and scratches.

In the early days of antibiotics – the 1940s and ’50s – penicillin killed staph with ease. However, it’s a wily germ and learned how to outsmart penicillin. Scientists created a new penicillin, methicillin. Staph then developed ways of escaping the action of methicillin. It became MRSA, methicillin-resistant staph. We still have antibiotics that work against it, but they can’t always get the job done. Blood and organ infections with the germ are often life-threatening. The alternative antibiotics used for treatment of MRSA depend, in part, on a person’s healthy immune system to contribute to the conquest of this formidable foe. At older ages, the immune system isn’t as strong as it once was. I am truly sorry for your and your family’s loss. The battle with MRSA is also a battle against the indiscriminate use of antibiotics. Bacteria become resistant to them when they’re prescribed for conditions that don’t warrant their use, like colds.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My son-in-law insists on lifting his small children by their arms. I am terrified that he will pull their arms out of joint. I know this isn’t the proper way to lift children. Would you give your opinion about this so I can show him? Maybe he will listen to you. – A Worried Grandpa

Sons-in-law should listen to their fathers- and mothers-in-law. They have experience in child-rearing. Lifting young children by grabbing onto their hands or arms can cause the radius (the larger of the two lower arm bones) to slip away from the ligament that keeps it in place. This disruption has the name “nursemaid’s elbow.” I guess nursemaids must have lifted children in this way. It’s painful for the child, and the bone has to be manipulated back in place.

Children who are 5 and older aren’t in danger of this happening.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I fell some years ago. I had X-rays. There were no fractures, but I have been advised to have my right hip replaced. I am 76 and never had major surgery. People tell me there is nothing to the operation. Well, I am frightened. What would be the outcome without surgery? I take pain pills now because of the hip pain. – J.S.

The outcome is liable to be continued and possibly increasing pain. You are the one to judge when surgery is needed. Surgery just about always eliminates the pain.

No one likes to face surgery. Hip replacement is not ho-hum surgery. It is a major procedure, but most people get through it unscathed and often wonder why they didn’t ask for the procedure sooner.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I keep hearing that WD-40 is excellent as a topical treatment for knee osteoarthritis. I don’t trust it. Comment? – J.I.

Do you mean the lubricant WD-40? These people you hear claim that putting it on the skin over the knee eases their arthritis? That’s ridiculous. Don’t even think of doing 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

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