DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Will you please address the disease of MRSA? I was diagnosed with it two months ago and was given special drugs to cure it. — M.M.

ANSWER: MRSA, pronounced “murr-sah,” isn’t a disease. It’s a supergerm, a bacterium that’s resistant to many common antibiotics. The acronym stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staph Aureus.

In the early years of antibiotics, the late 1940s and the 1950s, penicillin killed all staph bacteria. Staph learned how to dodge penicillin. Clever scientists made a few changes to penicillin and came up with methicillin, an improved penicillin that could kill staph. Things were going along well, until staph discovered how to sidestep methicillin. This is MRSA.

MRSA has spread far and wide. It used to be confined to hospitals, but now it’s out in the general community.

Antibiotics exist that get rid of MRSA, but they are expensive and are held in reserve to foil staph’s adapting to them.

Resistant bacteria develop when antibiotics are overused and used inappropriately. Bacterial resistance has become a great problem for doctors and patients.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Will you please explain calcium deposits? I have had them show up in my mammograms. I had to have my gallbladder removed because of large calcium deposits and most recently have had intermittent pains in my upper intestines due to them. What causes them? What can I do to prevent them? — S.H.

ANSWER: The body uses calcium to patch over defects in tissues and organs. It’s the body’s equivalent of spackle, the material used to fill in cracks and holes in a wall. An old injury, a minor bump or an infection that cleared up on its own are some of the reasons the body lays down calcium.

Calcifications, in the breast in particular, also can represent cancer.

Radiologists differentiate harmless calcifications from potential cancerous ones by their size, their location and the pattern they make. If doctors cannot be certain, a biopsy settles the question. Calcified gallbladders can become cancerous, so they are routinely removed. I don’t know what the calcifications in your digestive tract are. You can’t do anything to prevent calcifications.

The booklet on breast cancer explains this illness and its treatments. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue — No. 1101, 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: Seven years ago, I had gastric bypass surgery, and lost 136 pounds. Four years ago, I became severely anemic and required 10 intravenous infusions of iron.

My problem is that I am anemic again. I completely lose my appetite for eight to 12 weeks after any surgery. Foods with iron are the last foods to interest me. I cannot tolerate oral iron supplements, and am limited due to the gastric bypass in the foods I can eat and digest — I cannot eat red meat, for example. Any suggestions addressing the iron problem would be appreciated. — S.B.

ANSWER: Although it is better absorbed on an empty stomach, you can take iron tablets with food to prevent stomach irritation. And you can reduce the amount of iron taken at a given time for the same purpose.

Whole grains, nuts, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts and beans contain iron, as do many iron-fortified foods like cereals, pastas and breads. The daily iron requirement for men and postmenopausal women is 8 mg. For menstruating women, it’s 18 mg.

Cooking foods in iron pots and pans passes some iron into the cooked foods. If none of this works for you, then you have to resort to getting your iron through injections.

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 www.rbmamall.com.


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