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.

  • 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.

  • sweeTee

    Thank u, I was so scared and I have no ins, and currently I was in an accident that has already, well is going to bankrupt me, then I get this little what I think is a spider bite, the fact the screens all r being replaced we had spiders, had to have land lord spray, new screens on yay, neways it didn’t go away, I had a full perscription my husband didn’t take for a tooth they gave him just in case it was cephalexin I think is how it’s spelled, neways I must have scratched it cuz I woke with and it was ozzing yucky stuff, my husband being the smart man he is ran and got everything then cleaned and made sure all was Sterile, even bed sheets blankets all of it, it appeared to b getting better but didn’t then I filled antibiotic and started taking it looked better but still not right, I found this, we did exactly as u said and the honey it’s amazing, after 4hrs this tiny thing still had so much yucky stuff in it it was almost black, in a day and half it’s a million times better, honestly I have been very scared, I didn’t know what to do. I am praying this will fix it cuz I don’t know what I would have to do if I had to go to er, currently I need a major hip surgery I can’t afford which has made it so I literally can’t sit, stand for more than a min w crutches, and I only can lean on right hip and prop myself on my elbo so getting into a car is horribly painful and to go to er well I’m scared of how much it will hurt, and it’s at least &500 just to walk I to the er. I can’t even afford the better honey but I’m trying to find some. Neways thank u for hope I do see it getting better it looks so much better and I have hope I won’t be tortured and have to pay for it.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      I’m so glad it’s getting better. Let’s hope it completely goes away. And, for the future, if you need to go to the doctor for this or other things, perhaps you could check with the hospital to see if there are any free clinic around or those that charge on a scale related to income.

  • rose

    My daughter who is only 6 months old currently has her second MRSA boil on the back of her head! Its very frustrating as her momma to see her be in pain and continually not allow others to hold her and such. Anyway… I have been applying essential oils to her head and she is on sulfamthe-trimeth (but the most resent bump isn’t really going down). I plan to pick up tea tree oil and also the honey. Now, I know this my be stupid for me to ask but if I apply the honey to my baby that would be okay, correct? I know children are not to consume the honey till they are older but application to a spot would be okay? Also, once the honey is applied to the back of her head does anyone have a suggestion as to how I bandage it without taping the little bit of hair she does have. Poor little thing is already in pain I hate to rip out her little hair because of band aid.:(

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      I would never use raw honey around a baby that age. You might ask your doctor if Medi-Honey is OK.

  • Nieces

    I had a boil under my arm a year ago ,it got treated with antibiotics and packed ,is it gone now are do I still have it. And can it make me sick or start up from the inside please let me know as I am so worried about it since I been so sleepy the past year

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      If there’s no definite increased tenderness under your arm, as opposed to under the other arm, there would be no reason to believe you have have a boil there.

  • Heidi_Heidelberg

    Neat blog! Anyone know… does MRSA ever look like a large rash? My aunt had a rash that she was hospitalized with. They thought it looked like MRSA but the culture came back negative and she was diagnosed with impetigo. On her way to the hospital, she had mailed my mother a box of Christmas gifts that she had wrapped while she had the rash. This was in the beginning of December … my mother didn’t open the box until Christmas. But, a few weeks after Christmas my mother couldn’t believe it but she had a small cyst on the side of her lower leg at exactly the same spot my aunt had her rash. Then, the cyst turned into three tiny pink bumps and over the past months it continued to slowly spread but looked like a pretty innocent rash. And than my mother put something on it that inflamed it and it just took off and really spread. It began to itch insanely but my mother never scratched it. Now, the side of her leg now looks red and purplish – like burned skin. She also has a couple of pockmark bumps (MRSA?) that itch on the bag of her leg. And then she got a rash on her other leg between her toes and on her upper thigh and a spot on her cheek. And she thinks she got it in her eyes because her eyes began mysteriously burn. The new rash on the other leg looks more like a typical rash -inflamed skin with little red bumps. Nothing oozes and nothing is dry and flaky. But, she said the itch is beyond anything she’s ever experienced. She has thrown everything on it in the book. And I’m wondering if MRSA ever looks like a rash. So far, I mainly hear people talk about boils.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      First, impetigo is a skin infection caused by strep or staph aureus and it is very contagious. I don’t really know how long either can live on something like a box. MRSA is staph aureus–just specific kind (methicillin-resistant staph aureus.) Certainly strep infections can cause a rash. I don’t know about staph but I don’t think it’s very typical. However, if she’s not getting significantly better, she should see a doctor.

  • MRSA in Central PA

    I have had recurrent CA MRSA for about 2 years now. It started in the middle of one summer after some very sweaty yard work. My boyfriend did a bunch of research and insisted is was MRSA. That didn’t make sense to me – because, aren’t sick people the ones susceptible to MRSA? So, we tried to lance it ourselves, and it hurt really bad, and the area was so inflamed that we couldn’t really get the deeper puss pockets, so the infection kept getting worse. It was on my upper thigh, below my butt. Finally, I couldn’t walk because I was in too much pain and I had a high fever, so I called Urgent Care and asked if they would do a lab on it to see if it was MRSA. They said they didn’t do labs. So I called the ER and they said they could do labs. I went to the ER, at Lancaster Regional Medical Center in Lancaster, PA, and I was seen by two men, who looked at me like I was an idiot for thinking I had MRSA, shrugged off the infection saying it was cellulitis, and refused to do a lab on it because my fever wasn’t “high enough”. That was July. I took the antibiotics, and coupled that with Neosporin, hot compresses, and manual drainage of the area. It healed. I got another one in August during a week-long vacation in Ocean City, MD. It was on my jaw line, and I kept coating it with Tea Tree Oil. Eventually puss came to the surface and it drained, but it took more than a week to go away. I got another one the next month in September, and I went to my family doctor right away and demanded a sample get sent to the lab. The Dr. looked at me like I was an idiot, but did what I asked, and prescribed regular antibiotics in the mean time. 3 days later, he called and said he had some strange news. Obviously, it was MRSA. He was surprised. He changed my prescription to Bactrim, and it went away. I continued to get MRSA bumps every month for a year. I stopped going to the Dr. and started using Colloidal Silver gel, Tea tree Oil, Raw Honey, Cinnamon/Honey tea, etc, etc, etc. They cleared up the spots, but they always came back. Nearly all of the treatments I applied were topical.
    Finally, last November (2013) my sister told me her daughter had MRSA and had been given the Hibiclens body wash and the muriprocin (sp?) nasal goo, and her MRSA had gone away and never come back. My Dr. hadn’t even mentioned this was an option. So I called him up, and demanded a prescription for both. I took them, my MRSA went away, then I got another spot in December 2013, and another in January 2013.
    So, I had this theory that I might be coming into contact with MRSA through non-organic meats (which have been known to carry MRSA on the grocery store shelves) and that my triclosan-containing antibacterial soaps might not being killing the bacteria. So I switched to a triclosan-free natural antibacterial handsoap that uses essential oils to kill, and have only been purchasing organic meat. I finally went 4 months without an infection (almost). And that is the longest stretch of time without an infection.
    But, now I have one again. I called the Dr. for the bactrim, I still have the Hibiclens and nasal stuff. So I can take those. I called Johns Hopkins and scheduled an appointment with an Infectious Disease specialist, but that will take weeks and the thing on my chin right now will be gone by then.
    I am thinking I will try the turmeric, ginger, honey, cinnamon recipe from the one lady below.
    I would like more information about how to change my internal chemistry to make myself an inhospitable host to these bacteria, but I a pretty sure doctor’s of regular medicine don’t concern themselves with that sort of “alternative” stuff. I will come back as I have more info, it was nice to read other people’s comments and not have to feel so alone.

    • anony5

      I just wanted to let you know that I had issues with this 5 years back, I dealt with it, and the harsh antibiotics until they cleared up. I did this a few times until I got sick of it, and scheduled a new patient appt. with a new doctor. He basically prescribed me a less harsh antibiotic, but still an antibiotic all the same. My doctor prescribed me minocycline to take daily to clear it up. I started taking it, and did so for about 3 months, to which I cut back to one 150 mg a day ( he had me taking 2) and I haven’t had problems since. As your doctor ever suggested a maintenance antibiotic like this to you? I don’t even take the antibiotic anymore either, I stopped taking it as soon as I could, because I don’t like taking them to begin with, but to be told I might have to take it everyday for the rest of my life sounded terrible! When I was dealing with these, this is how I took care of them. I’m pretty sure i picked my first infection of this up in a tanning bed(for the record) then I couldn’t get rid of them. I would wash the “boil” with warm water and antibacterial soap, usually once a day. it also helps to use a hot water bottle or heating pad on them, of course cover them with a band aid when you do this. This draws the infection out. They stay covered until they “pop” otherwise. I went and got some tea tree oil, and some camphor oil, and colloidal silver all which can be found at your local cvs, or drug store. After washing with mild soap, unfortunately you have to extract what’s inside, only if the boil is ready to come out, do not mess with it, if it doesn’t appear to have a white head, and the infection is at the surface. you don’t want to pick at these though. I was told when extracting to pull, DON’T PUSH! Pushing only makes the infection go deeper, when you pull often times the white part will pop out on it’s own. Boils stay in place until you dig out or extract the “plug” There is a hard little infected plug at the root of each boil, you know when you get it, it will be a plug, and something that most likely wont just come out, you will have to get tweezers and pull it out. Make sure to wash off with peroxide, always keep this as clean as possible. Use sterile materials, and clean hands always. When these are seeping, always keep them covered or they will spread. The white stuff inside is contagious! Clean area, and dab with tea tree oil, camphor or colloidal silver ( I used tea tree oil mostly) and cover with a band aid. Keep them like this until they are ready to come out. Then do as I have described as above to extract the plug, then treat with peroxide, and tea tree, and cover until no longer seeping. Then what I had found at the time, was healing bandages, they go on like a second skin, and when I used them on a boil I had extracted they heal up the skin within a days time, and suck the rest of the infection out with them. They were great. I hope you get yours under control, Maybe mention to your doctor a maintenance antibiotic to take to cut the bacteria in your skin. Minocycline is often prescribed for acne, which I had found out, it’s not a harsh antibiotic like some listed here. I thought it would never work, and was shocked when it did, and I haven’t had to take anything for it in years.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Please let us know what Johns Hopkins advises. Thanks.

      • MRSA in Central PA

        I certainly will. Thanks.