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.

  • Agrinaut

    So, all of this talk of people with MRSA continuously battling the infection… does it ever get cured? Or is it just hard to keep up with it but still possible to rid of it if you do catch up with it?

    • Agrinaut

      By the way, I believe that a pimple-like boil that I had (you can guess where) was something that the description of Community MRSA fit very well with. Eventually, I knew it wasn’t a pimple, and then came across this sight.

      Remedy – Instead of using any antibiotics or going to a PAtient’s First – I used some Tea Tree & Vitamin E topical solution that I had on me. The boil reacted to it and started shrinking immediately (not like a pimple which would take time) Eventually, the head of it got dark while the rest of my skin went back to normal (less-red) color. It is not completely gone but it wasn’t happy about the tea tree oil and it seems as though it started dying or finding a new home… hopefully not the latter.

      I know MAnuka honey must help too if tea tree was so affective. I’ve had experience as a caregiver using Manuka Honey on a toe-fungal infection and it healed that sucker!

      • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

        Agrinaut, many people are cured after treatment for community MRSA. Thanks for the comment.

  • lil’ Miss mrsa.

    I am 18, with mrsa. my brother had it, then I had it. I had it on my knee and they drained it…Now I have had a couple bumps by my lady area, and by my bum-hole. I was wondering if it is okay if they just go away on there own? do I HAVE to go get them cut open? and if they just drain on there own is that okay? mrsa scares the crap out of me, and I do not want to live with it for the rest of my life((although I understand more then likely I will)) please help!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Unless they’re definitely going away, you should have them lanced by a doctor. Otherwise you run more of a risk of them getting worse or spreading. No, not everybody who has community-acquired mesa, has it forever.

  • HELP ME in MI

    I have had MRSA for over a year now and my partner and I keep passing it back and forth. We are scarde to death our 3 year old will get it and have been using alcohol and bleach, washing often etc…Neither of us has health insurance and I have already been seen in our local ER for painful boils 5 other times and cannot afford to keep going in…. to top it off I have no transportation to go to another city. They keep prescribing me Bactrin but it gives me horrible nausea and stops up my intestines so I have not been able to finish a full round 2 out of 3 times they gave it to me. When I go on the antibiotics…my partner gets a breakout. He is now on some Bactrin and it has been clearing up but his cousin who lives with us got it on her leg and is terrible at hygiene so I picked it back up from the toilet seat on the back of my thigh. I have been doing alot of garlic oregano in capsules from Young’s Living Oils and at first onset of the boil… I took a bath in Epsom salts and Lemongrass essential oils. Afterwards started to feel tenderness in my right nipple and breast. I have been putting warm compresses on it, and topically applying essential oils such as tea tree, basil, thyme, and oregano. I also resorted to Neem oil which worked best for the boil that came to a head on the back of my thigh. My problem is that the nipple of my breast is EXTREMELY tender and hard. The aureola on the top is worst right next to the base of the nipple. I did try to agitate it to see if I could bring it to a head but no luck so far. I feel like the bath I took contaminated my breast and those little suckers took the first opening they could to get out of the lemongrass essential oils and Epsom salts and burrowed themselves into my body. I have never been in so much pain! I watched some YouTube videos and looked this up on many other forums and haven’t found much unless it is for nursing mothers (which i am not) and the drainage videos are DISTURBING making me not like the idea of a hospital again as the first boil they packed with antibiotic tape which I felt was unnecessary as the 4 other boils they said they stopped doing that procedure. What can i do about this?? I thought perhaps I could try using my old breast pump to help draw it up and out?? I even tried the potato slices which only helped to cool the burning a little. I changed my diet to be mostly vege’s raw milk products, and light meats. NO SUGAR, refined foods, flour, etc. I was a regular beer drinker so I think my immune system is severely worn down and I weigh 220 and this crap seems to love the sugar and fats I have stored in my body as it likes to pick spots where there is more fat to settle in. I have been on the alkalizing side on everything I am putting in my body for the last 3 days with no alcohol at all. I started EmergenC and a daily vitamin as well as Kombucha, of which I had 18 oz of yesterday (and I will be taking more in the next few days)… I will be adding ACV as I made some from fresh apples this season which turned to vinegar and I will be getting some lemons, ginger root, and Turmeric to use internally…. I have little to no income and cash on hand or I would be getting some Manucka Honey…. all I have is some grade b clover honey… is that something I should avoid ingesting and can I use that on my breast? I do not want to give these little buggers anything they can use for food! Also should I worry about the infection in my breast coming to a head or can my body battle it out on the inside and should I be using cold or heat for compresses? Thanks for this site it is invaluable in these days and times.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      I do have a post on boils,
      But you need to find a regular doctor, not the emergency room. If you have Medicaid that would be the way to go. If you don’t then you can call the hospital and ask for a clinic that provides service at a reduced cost according to income. Waiting until you get bad and going to the emergency room is not only the most expensive option (by far), and you don’t get any follow up to make sure the MRSA is gone. Unless you and your partner find an antibiotic you can take and finish, and take at the same time, you’re never going to get rid of this.

  • Jason

    Dr. Hubbard, In your article you established that this superbug is created whenever you introduce antibiotics to it – because the few surviving bacteria develop a stronger strain. So why do you suggest coating the nostrils with mupirocin on anyone who’s been around someone who’s been infected. I mean, if I’m not developing symptoms, then why treat it. It’s the overuse of antibiotics that has created the superbugs in the first place.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Good point, Jason. That’s one of the risk/benefit things you have to consider any time you’re taking an antibiotic. But coating your nostrils with mupirocin could help prevent someone from getting a serious MRSA infection from that bacteria in your nostrils, even though it’s not doing you any apparent harm.

  • januarywins

    Thanks for the informative article and reader comments. I too went to the doctor with a “spider bite” behind my knee, and a very painful hang-nail.Unfortunately, I had a chemical reaction to th sulfa antibiotic (liver enzymes were very high). The sulfa antibiotic did help until the chemical reaction took place. My doctor had recommended using hydrogen peroxide to clean the wound, not neosporin. It has been effective but I’m making note of the raw honey and paste concoctions!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Glad you’re doing better.

  • Jay

    Thanks for this post. I have been suffering from what I was told was an ingrown hair, folliculitis blah blah blah, they said everything under the sun EXCEPT for MRSA! Through my own investigation I narrowed it down to MRSA. I have been suffering from this from the age of 18, I am now 23. It is on a very unpleasant part of my body (lady area). It has taken a severe toll on me mentally, as I find it extremely embarrassing. 2 days ago I felt it begin to become sore, within an hour it was agonizing. I could barely sit down because putting any pressure on it was awful!! I decided to go to the GP yesterday to see if maybe they could work it out while it was still closed, about to rupture. She said that it does look like possible MRSA, especially considering i have used all antibiotics under the sun including ointments and creams. You name it, I have tried it. I was given a referral to a specialist, we will see how that goes! But I purchased this product called “Comvita Medihoney Antibacterial Wound Gel”. It is medical grade manuka honey, completely sterile. It has been about 24 hours. Within that time I have changed my patch several times to ensure it stays as clean as possible. This ointment has literally drawn the entire infection out in such a sort period of time I cant even believe it! I am hoping and praying that is gone for good, the wound is still healing but whatever was inside is no longer in there anymore! :) Here’s to hoping I have found my cure. If not, I will have to continue trying. Thank you for this article. Glad to know I can use manuka honey (not one GP has mentioned this as a treatment!!)

    • me

      Thanks for sharing. I’m going to google it. I appreciate your post. I am not sure what my issue is. Someone mentioned shingles. Maybe the gel will help.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Jay, I certainly wish you the best.

  • SilenceIsConsent

    I’ve been researching to assist my adult nephew in finding a physician in the Las Vegas area who understands MRSA. He has had boils since he was about 17 years old. At 50 years old it seems he always has one or more boils on his body. Most recently he got a boil under his foot, was treated 3 times, twice at the emergency room and once at a podiatrist. Antibiotics marginally helped, then the infection returned in the same spot. It’s in check (still under the foot but not growing again) by use of topical Walmart brand antibiotic cream and a pad around core. Furthermore, he has frequent fevers and his knee joints are continuously inflamed.

    Is there any chance this man can be treated and become boil-free?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      That’s a tough problem and I don’t have a good answer. Perhaps you could try searching for physicians with an interest of recurrent boils at the teaching medical center there. As far as the frequent fevers and knee joint inflammation, that usually doesn’t go along with just run-of-the-mill frequent boils.

  • Charlotte

    my grandmother is in the icu we’ve been told she has MRSA in her nostrils and have to wear a gown and plastic gloves when we enter the room and dispose of before we leave the room so it doesn’t get spread about the ICU. My question is should we be concerned if we have acne about contracting mrsa while we are in there visiting grandma.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      That’s a good question to ask her doctor. But I think you’re already taking the precautions of a mask and gloves. Unless you were to somehow have skin to skin contact with her and get the bacteria in an open sore, it seems to me the risk is very small. Another question to ask the doctor is whether close family members should have their nostrils swabbed for MRSA also.

  • Jack

    Hello, people. From my experience I have MRSA and I really do
    not want to go to a doc. No matter what I do to try to regain my life the MRSA seems to only attack my left leg. Any subjections on how I can attack this infection? Or what I can use as a substance as “Bactrim”?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You’re taking a big risk by not going to the doctor. MRSA is nothing to toy with. See my post on honey and MRSA.

  • Seeking Relief

    I am glad I found this through a search on the internet. I am a 45 year old female who has recurring boils. I got the first one after an operation to remove a water cyst from one of my ovaries. I developed an infection on my stomach that seeped and they treated it. Nothing was said about MRSA then. Then a boil appeared on my labia majora and was very painfull. I never got another one after that until another operation a few years later to scrape the uterus for heavy periods (endometrial ablation). The procedure has helped immensely with heavy periods and now I rarely have had a period for the last 2 years, but the possible side effect was another infection that was diagnosed as MRSA. I had no idea what it was, but the infection was the size of my hand and spreading across my stomach. I don’t know if it was a result of the hospital or from the community as it appeared a few months later. As “Peri” said in their response “Just because you have a infection of MRSA after a surgery does not mean that you caught it at the Hospital, you could have been a carrier and when your skin was opened up it allowed the MRSA to take off”.

    I had an incident going on vacation while treating myself of this infection. I was at the Canada/US border and the US border pulled me over for a routine check. They called the centre for disease control in Minneapolis as I explained that I was a carrier of MRSA and what the sterilized items were that I had to use to clean and dress my wound. They did let me cross over to the US from Canada, but didn’t want me to go in the water, which I had no intention of using a community pool. The situation was treated seriouly though.

    After that the boils started coming and coming and often two or three or more at a time or one after another. The last three have happened in the last month and a half and appeared one after another 1) on my right buttocks 2) on my left wrist and 3) the lastest one has appeared beside my mouth now. This is the first boil on my face. Each boil once gone leaves a small purple mark. I am concerned about the one on my face. I can tell a boil is coming on when I feel a sharp pinch or bite like a mosquito and the next day a boil is starting to form. Doctors have prescribed amoxicillin (which does nothing), cephalexin and sulpher pills. Also fucidin cream and the antibacterial soap tersaseptic. The last time I had a prescription for sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim and it didn’t help. Perhaps it is becoming resistant to those. I never know though if the boil is caused by MRSA. I assume they are because I have been diagnosed of being infected with it. I am also tested regularily for diabetes as the doctor things that may be a cause of all these boils. I am not diabetic. I am also very cautious of touching things like door handles, etc and am a fanatic about washing my hands.

    The responses and your advice on the honey and other items I will now try. I hope that there is a solution. This is no way to live with constant boils.

    Thank you for the information that is here. It helps that there are others out there seeking solutions.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You’re welcome. Hope you find relief.