August 8, 2014 at 1:00 am

To Your Health

MRSA is bacteria resistant to antibiotics

Dear Dr. Roach: What is MRSA? I got it while at a nursing home in May 2011. How is it transmitted? Is it contagious? Whenever I go to the local hos­pital, they treat me as though I have some horrifying disease.

L.M.

Dear L.M.: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria strain that is resistant to many com­mon antibiotics. It has been a problem in hos­pitals for years, and is increasingly a problem in the community.

I need to emphasize the difference between being colonized with MRSA and being infected. Being colonized means the bacteria are living on your skin (most commonly hands and nose), whereas in an infection, they are causing symptoms, such as a boil.

MRSA is contagious person-to-person. You probably got it from a health-care worker’s hands or from the surfaces in the nursing home. The local hospital wants to prevent transmission to other staff and patients, so they take extra precautions to prevent transmission. Some recommend “decolonization” (treatment aimed at getting rid of the MRSA), but it’s not clear whether that is necessary or even helpful.

Dear Dr. Roach: In June, you wrote about reheating foods in a microwave, and advised against Styrofoam or other plastic containers.

What is the best kind of container to use in the microwave? The manual says not to use anything metal.

J.W.

Dear J.W.: Most plastics probably are safe to heat liquids in, but reheating foods can cause pockets of very high temperatures that can partially melt the plastic and cause the release of potentially harmful chemicals. I recommend using glass or ceramic plates or bowls to reheat food.

Many people wrote in to tell me that Dow Chemical’s brand of polystyrene, Styrofoam, is not used for cups.

Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.