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.

  • 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.

  • Vera Biggane

    It took me 3 years to get a diagnosis for the MRSA I had. I went to 5 dermatologist & a few regular docs. I even pleaded for them to do a culture, but they WOULD NOT DO SO. They would refer my to a psychiatrist for my anxiety. I had gone to CVS due to a huge abcess & was made to feel nuts as the nurse said she remembered me from a year ago in a foul tone. One could clearly see the abcess, but I was told I was scratching myself as all the other docs would tell me. A few days I lucked out by going to an immediate care clinic. They immidatley lanced the abcess & did a culture. Sure enough it was MRSA. What do they teach in medical school?

  • Pingback: How To Treat and Prevent MRSA (Staph infections) | Info You Should Know

  • Jonathon Remington

    unfortunatly I have alot of expierence with dealing with MRSA, and alot of ppl give advice without actually knowing what they are talking about and this is not helpful at all to ppl suffering from MRSA. I enjoy this particular blog because Dr. James gives honest, accurate advice! It’s a great resource finding someone who is informed and willing to take the time to promote truthful solutions. Thanks, Dr. Hubbard

  • dorsa

    im 44 years old woman. its 3 moths im sick. im tired of going doctors.3 moths ago I was diagnosed with strep throat , my doctor gave me Augmentin 875mg after 4 day he changed my medicine to omnicefe 300 mg for 7 days because of dearie. during my medication I never feel good I had back pain sore throat, mucus in my throat and dry chough. I made appointment ,my dr said u have to finish your medicine and wait for one weak if you don’t feel good come back again . after 10 days I went there my sterp came back again this time he gave me 2 shots . and he told my if u don’t feel good u have to go ent doctors , actually I made appointment with them I went 2 different ent doctors they visited me and told me you have acid reflux he gave me omeprazole 20 twice a day ,after 20 days I didn’t feel good I went GI . he told its not acid reflux if you had with omeprazole ,u should feel good he told u have maybe virus and suggested me to wait another 1 weak .after 1 weak I went to another general dr , after blood test and urine, she told me u have pylori she gave me prev pack for 14 days I finished all still im sick and my shoulders pain is getting worse, when im in polluted area I have shortness of birth I cant sleep I m so worried , I also had ct from my stomach and colon its normal my blood test is normal. I have upper endoscopy and colonoscopy next weak and another ent dr appointment next week . please help me im tiered of going drs . is it possible I have hidden streptococcus bacteria in my lungs? if so how its possible to diagnose

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      It’s sounds like you’re having a really tough time. Do you have a family doctor who is keeping up with all of these other referrals and maybe steer you in the right direction?

    • Liadan

      I wonder if you have black mold in the house.

  • Min

    My daughter has molluscum contagium on her bottom that she has scratched and itched. Nine months ago, a bump became infected and urgent care said it was most likely MRSA so they gave us mupirocin and antibiotics. This scenario has repeated itself a few times this year. The last incident was a couple of weeks ago. She was put on Bactrim but then got an allergic reaction (hives) and had to stop taking the Bactrim after 7 days. Now one-two weeks later she has a urinary tract infection and I’m scared to death that its MRSA. What is the likelihood its MRSA? Any natural ways to treat a MRSA urinary tract infection especially since she can no longer take Bactrim?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      urine can cultured–taken and put on certain substances in a lab where the bacteria causing the infection grows and is identified. Perhaps ask if it can be done for her. Any open sores can be cultured also. And I would suggest you get a regular doctor for her to follow up with.

  • James

    I just found out this last Wednesday that a large boil I have on my rear end tested positive for MRSA. They lanced the boil three days prior (Monday), but were unable to really get much out. I was placed on Bactrim and told to return today (Friday). I had the boil lanced again today and was told that the boil was extremely deep. The DR advised me that I might contact a general surgeon regarding this sore. My question is, because my boil is extremely deep, will the Bactrim kill the MRSA in this abscess? I’m unable to have surgery at this time, as I’m currently at a military school for the next five months. Any advice would be much appreciated.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      James, there’s no way I can tell you if MRSA is going to completely get rid of the boil. But you shouldn’t put off something like that. At least have the surgeon check to give you some advice. Perhaps it only needs to be lanced a lot deeper. Perhaps the surgery will think it will get well on its own. If you delay and the infection doesn’t clear, it could spread an make you a lot sicker.

      • James

        Thank you for the reply. I forgot to mention that when the boil was last lanced the DR told me that I had a ton of scar tissue. Would she be meaning I would need a lump of scar tissue removed by a surgeon and that the infection was gone? She placed me on a month’s worth of bactrim. I’m going to call her first thing Monday for some clarity. Thank you DR.

  • Ann

    Hi, I have a question. A few months ago I got a nasty MRSA infection after getting a cyst removed. I ended up in the hospital for the infection and sepsis (oh yeah, and crazy pain), and had to have a debridement surgery, which left an open surgical wound. The open wound healed very recently, but within two days had to be re-opened and drained/cultured. The doctors were very worried because of my previous hospitalization, so I was put on heavy doses of antibiotics. The wound took a few more weeks then rehealed a few days ago, but the pain is coming back (which I’m told is usually the first sign), and I’m guessing the infection is coming back. I was so anxious to prevent being rehospitalized that I went to the doctor right away before (when all I had to do was have the wound reopened and go on tons of bactrim), but since it appears many people end up suffering from boils that clear up on their own, is it possible that what used to be a dangerous SSI has now transitioned into a more mild, CA-MRSA? Is there any way to know? Is there a point when I know I need to go back to the doctor, and a point where I could try alternatives instead? If I wait for the fever to set in, does that pretty much guarantee hospitalization?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You can’t risk assuming it’s a milder version. I’d check with your infection disease doctor. I expect they’re going to want to culture any infected looking areas. Talk to your doctor about any alternatives to try in the future, but you don’t want to wait longer than they suggest. The type of mrsa you described can be a killer.

      • Ann

        Okay, thanks so much for the reply. I’ll go in first thing in the morning. Best wishes!

        • Ann

          Hi, you were definitely right. It’s now resistant to Bactrim unfortunately. It’s reopened with packing, then a plan for another larger debridement in a couple weeks with the hope that the packing will allow it to be partially closed after the debridement.

          • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

            I wish you the best.