How to Treat MRSA When There's No Doctor

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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.

  • 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.

  • twinki

    My husband and I get MRSA boils quite often. They hurt and are very ugly. Pictured below is my most recent infection. I usually get them on my sides and in the underarm areas where my husband gets them all over. I wish there was more that can be done besides batcrum and an occasional pain reliever because these infections are worse than child birth.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Sorry to hear you’re suffering. I hope things get better for you.

  • Anub

    Hey i really like what you all are doing here & i feel good that I’m not alone with this stuff. I have a few questions i really need looked at. So about 5 years ago i was tested positive for MRSA & had a boil in the nose drained & took medicine for my blood & all of that i guess. Ever since then i was told by a doctor i have beeb colonized & it seems it will stay in my nose forever & to not mess with it & i should be okay. However now every few months or so i get a couple small boils start to come up in the same areas. I apply tea tree oil & not bactrin since I’m allergic to sulfa drugs but the other cream that sounds like that one too. Usually the boils go away fast as i catch them fast maybe 3-4 days. The doctor tells me i need to stay out of my nose (and i admit i have a problem with that) because i irritate the MRSA int he nose then scratch my skin & that’s how it happens. My problem is that i can’t help but get into my nose at times because when i wake up every other morning there is like a layer of crust & stuff in the nose & it hurts. I apply that cream & it goes away. My concern is am i missing something here? Am i supposed to be battling this for life now or are they not giving meds I’m supposed to be taking to get rid of it for good? Im afraid what if i have it all these years & it seeps into my blood & such & i think I’m okay & i just keep self treating the boils. How would i know if it was getting more serious? Last year i went in with 2 small boils & the doc game me the antibiotics which worked but see they are still coming back. He said they may have grown immune & just be there now so is there no way to rid them? What should i be doing? This is all very scary. On one hand i have a doc telling me its okay just stay out of my nose & if boils pop up treat them fast & come in if they don’t go away but then i see people saying that is not how it should be at all as if they keep coming back that must mean you still have it in you & it could be spreading making very very serious issues happen. What do i do??

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Sounds like your doctor is giving you good advice but you could always seek a second opinion. Mupirocin (Bactroban) in the nostrils is pretty standard care. Although there can be allergic reactions, they’re rare since very little of the ointment gets absorbed. Anyway, it’s something you and your doctor can talk about. Have your nostrils been cultured to make sure they’re the source? They probably are, but since you’re having so much trouble … And there’s going to be no alternative to keeping your hands away from your nose. Perhaps you could use a paper towel with some warm salt water to soak away any crusting. Or see and ENT to see why there’s so much crusting. And here’s a pretty interesting link for your information.