No Mercy for MRSA. How to Treat One of the Most Common Superbugs. «

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No Mercy for MRSA. How to Treat One of the Most Common Superbugs.

MRSA may be resistant to some antibiotics, but honey can still kill it.

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Of all the “superbugs” that can infect you, the one you’re most likely to get outside of a hospital setting is community-acquired MRSA (pronounced mer’-suh). The official name is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. I see it in the office fairly often, and it’s resistant to the antibiotics we commonly use for staph.

For cases where you can’t get to a doctor, everyone should know how to treat MRSA.

MRSA’s Bio

MRSA is just plain old staph that has adapted with the times. It’s a mutated strain of that same staph aureus that gave you impetigo as a child. As is often the case with superbugs, it was a matter of survival of the fittest.

Every time antibiotics are given, there’s a chance a few bacteria that have mutated a resistance to the antibiotic survive. Then, with no competition (remember, the weaker bacteria were killed), they have room to multiply. Do this a few million times and the strongest survivors develop their own strain.

Staph aureus is a bacteria famous for its adapting capabilities. Penicillin hadn’t been in use very long before staph developed resistance to the degree that we had to develop new types of penicillin (methicillin and oxacillin) to kill it. Cephalexin and erythromycin also worked. But now there’s a strain called MRSA that’s resistant to methicillin, oxacillin, and most other of the common antibiotics.

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MRSA often starts as a pimple and develops into a boil. You may think it’s a spider bite at first.

How to Treat MRSA

Well, that depends on whether it’s the hospital type or the community-acquired type.

MRSA first popped up in the hospital and it’s still a killer there. It can cause wound infections, kidney infections, and pneumonia, to name a few. Only the strongest intravenous antibiotics have any chance at all to get rid of it. Some of the so-called flesh-eating bacteria cases are caused by MRSA.

Fortunately, the one I see in the office is what we call the community-acquired type, and for now, it’s easier to treat. It’s a skin infection and often starts as a pimple that develops into a boil. Many patients come in actually thinking it’s a spider bite but don’t remember seeing a spider.

How to Treat Community-Acquired MRSA
    1. Antibiotics include the sulfa drug Septra, also known as Bactrim. Clindamycin also works, as does the prescription antibiotic cream, mupirocin (Bactroban). Sooner or later, I’m sure, community-acquired MRSA will become resistant to all of these.
    2. If it’s an abscess (boil), it needs to be drained. If the boil starts draining, either on its own or with an incision and drainage, the infection will often go away even without antibiotics. If you just can’t get to a doctor for days, read my post about how to lance a boil.
    3. Honey can kill it. Preferably the Manuka or Medihoney kind. See my post.
    4. Tea tree oil has also been shown to work.
How to Prevent Community-Acquired MRSA

MRSA is very contagious through contact. To keep from getting it:

  • Keep the area bandaged.
  • Throw away or sterilize all instruments used.
  • Wipe down any exposed areas with a ten percent bleach solution.
  • Hand washing is essential.

One more thing. MRSA is found inside the nostrils of a lot of people who don’t have symptoms, so if you’ve been around someone with the infection, consider coating your nostrils with the antibiotic cream mupirocin once a day for a few days. You’ll need to have you doctor give you a prescription for it.

Has anyone had experience with MRSA?

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Honey photo by Hillary Stein on Flickr. MRSA photo by Jen (self-photographed) (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

  • James

    Hi everyone, i know i am very late in this discussion. I am prone to infection. My doctor said maybe my skin build that way. I experienced many boils and some of them becomes keloid (heal by itself). Now i am worried that my boils is actually a MRSA infection. Because my boils usually appear with no head at all. It just becomes red bumps and swollen and most of the time it will go away without head appearing. How to know if its a MRSA infection ? Is it infection with head like the picture above (acne like appearance)? Can someone help me ? (sorry for bad english)

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      In order to know if it’s MRSA, a health care provider would need to lance it and have a sample sent off for a culture. You’d can’t identify it by appearance alone.

  • Miss

    I know this post and discussion is old but I’m so glad I found it!! In December at Christmas my ear in this little nook was throbbing and killing me. A big bump/boil formed. I went to the doc, he said it looked like a spider bite, was definitely infected and gave me an antibiotic. It helped, but didn’t do the job all the way and ended up coming right back even bigger than before once I stopped the antibiotic.
    I went back to the docs a few weeks later, got another antibiotic that’s stronger. It helped take the boil down but not all the way so I went back to the docs again. He prescribed 1 more week of antibiotics and said he didn’t know what to do and he would refer to me a cyst specialist. (at least he was honest)
    This definitely isn’t a cyst. The glands under my jaw were huge. The lymph nodes around my armpit were swollen as well. I know my body. My glands and lymph nodes swelled up as soon as the boil came. It looked exactly like a pimple with no head. I asked the doctor to drain it, he wouldn’t.
    My mom sliced it and drained it which helped the most out of everything!! My mom is a nurse and kept telling me over and over she knew it was MRSA from the gate. She kept saying she wanted to drain it and I didn’t let her for the longest time. Finally when the doctor laughed at me, I let her perform surgery. I swear to you this helped the most out of everything. It helped more than the antibiotics. It helped more than the doctors advise to clean it 3 times a day. It helped more than the docs advice to keep water out. It went down drastically. My mom said she didn’t drain it enough because there is still a teensy tiny boil that blends in with my skin. You can’t see it, you can only feel it. Since she drained it my appetite has come back and my glands have almost returned to normal. I think I’m going to try the oils I’ve seen mentioned in this post.
    I know this was MRSA. It looks exactly like the pics I’ve seen. It started out looking like a spider bite. I had a temp from December 2015- April 2016.. Every time I’ve been to the docs since December my temp has been over 100. I lost my appetite and lost more weight. I’m already a petite woman and went down to 110 pounds.
    I told the doctor this little thing has wreaked havoc on my body. He actually laughed at me and said it was all in my head. Everything I’ve said is documented. The weight loss, the fever, the inflamed lymph nodes. I wish I could find one doctor that would actually listen to me instead of passing me off like another slab of beef on the table.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks for sharing. I wish you the best and hope you get completely well soon.

  • Know Prepare Survive

    I got MRSA from a nasty gash on my leg. That plus my stubborn dislike of appointments and doctors led to a neon green infection and swollen foot in a matter of weeks. When I finally did go to an outpatient clinic, I was given the wrong meds (they gave me the antibiotics for chlamydia, which I’m proud to say I didn’t have) and the only reason I didn’t end up losing my leg is by my sheer luck of going over to a nurse friend’s house and her son hitting me right in the wound.

    MRSA is no joke and I’ve got the scar to prove it.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks for sharing.

  • Terryfaerie

    My MRSA experience is very different from the ones that I have read in this conversation. My middle finger began swelling and then hurting over a period of 5-6 days. My ex-husband, an MD (on call in the hospital for a week), told me to go to a hand specialist. My finger was the size of a Polish sausage and HURT. I was sent home with some antibiotics. Two days later the pain was unbearable. My husband told me to go see a friend of ours (ortho), to see what he had to say. He took one look at the finger, canceled his appointments and called all over town looking for a hand surgeon who wasn’t in surgery. That was at 9 a.m. I was on the table by 12 noon. Not only did I have MRSA, it had traveled in to the tendon sheath. I was told that he had saved my life. I had 3 surgeries in 8 days, and was on a vancomycin drip for a month. I never had a boil. I was prepared to be an amputee. I had a lot of painful physical therapy, and am missing part of the finger pad.
    How would I have known it was MRSA, since I didn’t have a boil?? Was my MRSA different than the ones that I am reading here?? What survival skills would one need if their MRSA shows in this way???

  • katndog

    I was bit by an known type of spider during the night and developed a large egg sized infection with a black spot the size of my pinky nail. I went to a doctor who cut it open and drained it, it stunk to high heaven! I took antibiotics, but they didn’t work, I continued taking antibiotics for 18 months because I developed staph and it had spread all over my lower legs. Finally, I took control and researched on the net. I found HONEY to be an effective tool, so I put 1/2 TSP on a 4×4 gauze patch and tapped it on the sores, I changed them every 24 hrs and within 10 days every single sore was GONE!!! I’ve never had staph since.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks for sharing.

  • Revenwyn

    I have a boil on my pubic mound that is currently draining. I have been treating it with warm compresses and tea tree oil. I would have tried the turmeric idea below but I’m allergic to turmeric. I do have some raw local honey but we’re poor and can’t buy Manuka honey.

    I went to the doctor for it and she prescribed Bactrim without taking a culture. Within one dose I found out I was allergic to it. My birth mother and her father are apparently allergic to every single antibiotic. I am also allergic to the penicillin family. I have had reactions to z-pac. Now I have a bit of a UTI as well. I am also developing a sore throat.I have been running a low grade fever for five days now; never above 100 degrees, but my average is 96.8 – 97.3.

    Could this be linked to MRSA?

  • Megan

    I don’t know if anyone is checking these comments, but my 5 month old had a very swollen, red, hot pinky finger, and upon closer examination, an abscess under the nail. I called the doctor and we went in, and she drained it right away and bandaged it. She prescribed Keflex for 7 days. This was Wednesday of last week, and the culture she took came back today showing a MRSA infection as the cause. We go in tomorrow to be seen again and have a new prescription filled. I am so leery of antibiotics because of what it’s done to my gut health, and am searching for alternative treatments. Everything I’m reading is contraindicated for infants (honey, turmeric, etc.). Any suggestions? I also have a 3 and 5 year old, and am concerned that they, or my husband or I, may become infected. Any tips? Is bleaching everything necessary? It doesn’t seem at all practical for us. Also, should I keep a bandage on the finger? The doctor originally recommended keeping it undressed to allow it to finish draining and heal. Thanks!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You could ask your doctor about mupirocin (Bactroban) ointment.

      • Megan

        Thank you Dr. Hubbard!

  • Lisa Agin

    I self diagnosed MRSA (thank God for Internet & YouTube) before I went to the Dr for a culture to verify. I had GREAT success with Silver Gel 25 ppm (I now use 35 ppm) & Clorinated baths (I only use Clorox Ultimate Care Bleach), 2/3 of a capful in a full tub of warm water, then soak for 20 min. I like this bleach as I saw it recommended on YouTube, it smells good, & doesn’t burn your wounds, at all! My MRSA was nearly completely healed before the Dr got the culture results (it was indeed MRSA). I then took a full 10 day course of Septa (Bactrim) that made me very sick (rash & constant itching that I had to treat with Benydryl). Due to the antibiotics I got lax about my Clorinated baths. Antibiotics did NOT kill it all (a 2nd culture proved). Went back to my original treatments & added a tsp of Manuka honey daily. I go today for a vaginal culture to insure no colonization. Natural therapy has been much more affective, for me, than anything else!

  • Bebetterplease

    Ten years ago I was hospitalized with this. One on my rear and one in my lady area. I got an infection in the scar of te lady area one recently and went to the doctor imediately. She would not take a culture, said it was to small. It healed but then a few weeks later I got a small boil on my rear and according to my doc a bartholonian cyst. She again would not take a culture and just acted like I was a hypochondriac. Despite the fact that another of the doctors their had been concerned that I have a consistently high white blood cell count. I have started taking tumeric and have been eatin much healthier for a while. I will get some of that honey. I located a specialist in my area but they would not take me without a referral. I’m pretty sure I’m a carrier because for 20 years I hve had a tiny cyst in my nose. Any tips on getting a doctor who will test me? Good luck to everyone it’s truly a horrible thing.

  • Joseph

    I had mrsa in my nose back in 2005. Was put on keflex and landed in the hospital iv antibiotics. I got it again in my lip in Dec 2014. Now I have it again in my nose. Been on clindomycin for about 6 doses. Wondering whether all mrsa infections need to be drained.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      If there’s no abscess (boil), there’s nothing to drain.