Ask the Doctor: MRSA, body odor and potty training

Dr. Rob Riley joins us each week from the South Bend Clinic. Here are his responses from June 11.

Laura: Can MRSA be caught by doing the dishes of someone who has MRSA?

MRSA—or “mrsa”—stands for methicillin-resistant Staph aureus. This is a type of bacteria we find in some infections, most commonly skin infections, that is resistant to some of the more common antibiotics. We don’t exactly catch MRSA in the same way we catch a cold. Many of us carry MRSA around with us all the time on our skin. It doesn’t become a problem until there’s breakdown in the skin barrier for some reason—maybe a cut or a scrape—that allows the bacteria to set up shop and cause an infection. One of the best ways to prevent these types of infection, regardless of which bacteria are involved is with soap and water. So cleaning dishes with soap and water in the absence of an open wound would not be something I’d worry about with respect to MRSA transmission.

Amy: Should a seven year old be having body odor and armpit hair?

Most kids start to show signs of puberty between ages 10-12, so age 7 is earlier than average. Whether it’s truly abnormal for any particular child is a bit more complicated. In general, children have been showing signs of puberty earlier and earlier. We also know girls tend to start before boys, African Americans start before kids of other races, and overweight kids start earlier than normal weight kids. So we have to take all of that into account plus look for multiple signs suggesting early puberty. In girls, we look to see if there’s early breast development, the presence of pubic hair, and ultimately the start of menstrual cycles. In boys, we look mostly for hair and genital changes. So a child showing some early signs should be examined by their doctor to take all of these things into account and decide if hormone testing is necessary or if the child can just be observed over time.

Karen: Do you have any tips on potty training a boy?

This is a time that’s often frustrating for parents and for children. It’s important to make sure the child is ready before starting. They have to be able to sense when they need to go and be able to express that to the parents. They need to understand what’s expected of them and be physically able to perform. Kids vary in the age at which they’re ready and it’s important not to start too early. Studies show praise works better than punishment in getting the desired behaviors and the best reward is the positive encouragement of the parents. Patience is really important here as some kids, particularly boys for some reason, have a tough time getting the hang of this. Set-backs are common. It’s important to take the long view here as pretty much all kids will eventually get the hang of this. The American Academy of Pediatrics website has some excellent, free information for parents that goes into more detail and I’d encourage parents of young kids to check that out.