About 2 percent of the population carries MRSA bacteria somewhere on the body, the same bacteria that causes over 90,000 serious staph infections in the U.S. alone every year, and is linked to serious health problems like skin abscesses, sepsis and pneumonia. (1) MRSA is a type of resistant staph bacteria, which collectively are the No. 1 cause of blood-borne bacterial infection treated in the United States each year. Annually, about 1.2 million people visit an American hospital due to having symptoms of a staph infection and seeking MRSA treatment.
Since the mid 1970s, researchers have found that a growing number of people are now home to bacteria responsible for causing staph infections, but fortunately experts have been able to formulate new MRSA treatment options that can control or treat most outbreaks. The name of the bacteria responsible for causing most minor to moderate staph infections is staphylococcus, a microbe that’s now very common and lives on the skin of about 30 percent of adults and children. (2)
The vast majority of staph microbes living on the surface of the skin don’t cause symptoms of an infection, however they can if they make their way into deeper layers of the body and begin to proliferate — especially if they mutate in the process and are then able to resist treatment.
The biggest problem associated with staph bacteria is not that they exist, but that many strains have now have the ability to transform and defend themselves against antibiotics.
In 2005 alone, MRSA infections cost the health care system approximately $9.7 billion, and sadly many patients with severe infections were not able to overcome them due to resistance. (3) Preventing MRSA from spreading in the first place is one of the most important things we should focus on, considering research suggests that 20 percent to 30 percent of all staph infections might be preventable with hygiene and control programs put into place.
What Is MRSA?
MRSA is short for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria that contributes to infections of the skin, connective tissue, and sometimes bones, heart and blood vessels. While most staph infections are treatable with a combination of antibiotics and/or minor surgery to open up and drain inflamed abscesses, some MRSA infections are not and therefore remain a much more serious public health threat.
Because MRSA is resistant to antibiotic medications, it can sometimes continue to spread throughout the body as bacteria make their way through the bloodstream and into pockets where they can quickly reproduce. It’s been found that several MRSA microbes can transform themselves (mutate) from one strain to another, further enabling their survival. This is especially dangerous when MRSA reaches vital organs like the heart and lungs or begins to affect blood flow through major vessels.
Approximately 20 percent of all bloodstream infections treated in hospitals are now caused by MRSA staph bacteria. Prevention and catching blood-borne infections during their earliest stages remain the biggest concerns for experts.
Findings suggest that MRSA treatment protocols are in fact working and that MRSA infection rates have been coming down in recent years — however, MRSA still remains a significant problem. There are still more deaths in the U.S. and Europe due to MRSA staph infections each year than there are due to serious viruses like HIV.
Prevention and Natural MRSA Treatment Options
1. Only Take Antibiotics When Completely Necessary
Antibiotic resistance is now considered to be an urgent global matter. Antibiotics should only be taken when absolutely necessary to treat an infection. If someone takes antibiotics frequently or for long periods, including taking them to treat certain staph infections, they’re then at a greater risk for developing MRSA. The elderly seem to be at the highest risk for developing MRSA. Antibiotic resistance can affect people of all ages and in all nations, however, which is why health care providers are advised to be very selective about when they prescribe antibiotics to sick patients.
2. Strengthen Your Immune System
The likelihood of developing any type of infection has a lot to do with a patient’s overall immunity against microbes. Certain foods may be able to help strengthen your immune system against infections by improving gut health, preventing deficiencies and reducing allergies.
These include healing foods, such as breastmilk in infants, high-antioxidant foods, raw vegetables and fruit, garlic, fresh herbs/spices, wild-caught fish, probiotic foods, and drinking plenty of water. Foods to avoid that can worsen gut health, lower immunity, and promote allergies or inflammation are packaged, processed foods, potential food allergens like conventional dairy, gluten, shrimp and peanuts, conventional dairy products, refined fats or fried foods, and added sugar.
Certain supplements might also offer increased protection, including omega-3 fish oil, zinc, vitamin C, echinacea, vitamin D, and antiviral herbs for immunity like calendula, elderberry and astragalus.
3. Hygiene and Hand-Washing
The Health Research Funding Organization and the CDC both state that properly using germ-killing soaps and/or ointments in health care settings could reduce cases of MRSA by about 40 percent. Practicing good cleanliness/hygiene in your home by regularly disinfecting shared surfaces and linens — in addition to hospitals, nursing homes, day cares and schools doing the same — is one of the best ways to prevent our current situation of contagious MRSA infections from worsening. (4)
Tips for helping lower your risk for a staph infection include:
- Washing your hands often. It takes approximately 20–30 seconds to properly wash your hands using a natural antibacterial soap along with warm water. Taking this step alone whenever you leave a hospital, day care or nursing home can drastically cut your risk of MRSA or staph infection.
- Use cleansing products shown to remove even most MRSA and staph bacteria, such as those approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Refer to this list of EPA-registered products effective against MRSA.
- Wash all fabrics and linens (especially when they’re shared), plus clean and disinfect all working surfaces regularly using a natural cleaning products and detergent.
- Run any shared utensil, kitchen or cooking equipment through a dishwasher after use; bath after visiting a gym or health care facility; and avoid sharing personal items, such as towels or razors, that can carry bodily fluids.
4. Clean and Protect Cuts
If you cut your hands or puncture another area of skin, washing the cut and affected area can help remove staph bacteria before it has the chance to make its way into the bloodstream. Use a natural antibacterial handwash after going to the bathroom, before and after cooking, and when you leave places where transmission is most common, i.e., schools, restaurants, health clubs, hospitals or other high-risk public locations.
Try to keep scrapes, wounds or healing cuts clean and covered. Use band-aids, bandages or another dressing given to you by your doctor when appropriate. Don’t pick open blisters or scabs, and avoid touching other people’s open cuts. After surgery, always keep an eye on any incision and follow your doctor’s advice regarding cleaning and dressing procedures. If you notice signs like redness, swelling and oozing, then have your doctor look at the incision right away to treat any infection before it gets worse.
5. Properly Store and Handle Food to Avoid Contamination
Staphylococcal food poisoning is very serious, sometimes even fatal in infants, the elderly and patients with other long-term illness. To prevent staph bacteria from spreading through contaminated food and causing food poisoning, make sure that restaurant workers and those who handle your food always thoroughly wash their hands while working. (5)
At home, be sure to refrigerate and discard food properly, including foods that are more likely to carry bacteria, such as unpasteurized milk and cheese products (especially when they sit out for long periods), processed meats, puddings or custards, and any food that’s prepared using contaminated equipment. If you do develop staph food poisoning, help prevent complications due to dehydration (which can occur from vomiting or diarrhea) by consuming enough fluids, such as coconut water.
6. Naturally Treat Pain from Skin Rashes and Swollen Joints
Developing swollen, oozy blisters on the skin is the most common symptom of staph or MRSA infections. Although it might be tempting, don’t pick or try to “pop” blisters without help from a doctor. To help treat rashes, ease pain from blisters or reduce swelling of the skin at home, you can try the following tips:
- Press a warm compress against the rash once or twice daily. Always use a fresh, clean washcloth or towel, and make sure not to share the towel with anyone else afterward. Add some warm water to the towel or microwave a dampened towel briefly (avoid making the compress very hot, which can make skin sensitivity even worse). Press the compress against boils for about 10 minutes at a time. This same method also works for easing stiff joints caused by staph arthritis.
- Take warm showers or baths. This allows heat to help soften the skin, reduce muscle tension and reduce swelling.
- If you have swollen patches on your feet or lower legs, try elevating them to reduce blood flow and fluid accumulation. Very gently stretch stiff areas to keep them from getting even more stiff, but don’t apply too much pressure to sensitive areas.
- Don’t wear synthetic, tight clothing. This can make irritation and fluid accumulation worse. Also don’t apply makeup to blisters, which can carry bacteria.
- Avoid other skin irritants as much as possible while you heal, including scented body soaps, detergents, shampoos, perfumes and lotions.
- Although it’s best to get your doctor’s advice, you can consider using natural antibacterial essential oils topically like tea tree, rose and lavender, which have been shown to reduce symptoms of rashes. If you have achy joints, try essential oils for arthritis. Combine three drops of antibacterial essential oils with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil, and apply to the area one to three times daily. Stop using essential oils, however, if you notice irritation, dryness or redness worsening.
MRSA Symptoms and Signs
Depending on what part of the body staph bacteria take up residence in, such as the skin or joints, for example, symptoms and severity of infections can range significantly. While it’s possible to carry MRSA and not show any symptoms, most who come into contact with this bacteria do develop health problems as a result.
The skin, the largest organ in the body, is one of the most susceptible to staph and MRSA infections. Most otherwise healthy people who wind up developing staph infections show symptoms on their skin first and foremost. Luckily, most skin staph infections are treatable and don’t progress, but in some patients they do. MRSA symptoms that affect the skin can include: (6)
- Developing a rash of small, reddish bumps or blisters. Several types of rashes can be caused by staph infections. One is called impetigo, which is contagious and causes large blisters. Another is called cellulitis, which occurs most often on the legs or feet and causes patches of visible ulcers. Finally, staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome affects infants or babies, causing blisters that can open to expose raw skin.
- Rashes caused by MRSA can look like inflamed pimples, feel warm or tender to touch, produce open ulcers, or form pus-filled boils.
- Some bumps form crusty coatings, turn white, open up and release fluid, while others remain swollen, red and lead to pus-filled abscesses.
- It’s common to develop a fever at the same time as having a staph skin infection.
When MRSA extends beyond the skin, penetrates deeper into the body and becomes a blood-borne infection, symptoms can include:
- Signs of food poisoning, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and dizziness.
- Fever symptoms, including chills, loss of appetite, low blood pressure, upset stomach or muscle pains/weakness. Fevers can become high and severe in some cases.
- Septic arthritis symptoms, including joint pain, swelling and limited functionality (especially in the knees)
- Heart problems, including endocarditis, or an infection of the inner lining of the heart. Patients recovering from heart surgery and who have an artificial heart valve implanted are at the highest risk for endocarditis. (7)
- Symptoms of pneumonia, an infection of the lungs. This includes coughing, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
- According to the CDC, in severe cases MRSA can lead to the development of sepsis, which is a life-threatening reaction to severe infection in the body.
MRSA Causes and Risk Factors
Staph bacteria, including MRSA, are contagious, and research suggests that the majority of infections are caused from skin-to-skin contact and/or sharing personal items. MRSA is spread through contact when bacteria from an infected person’s body enters another patient’s skin or gastrointestinal tract through an open cut or wound (such as from sharing personal items like razors or towels) or from contaminated food.
Risk Factors for MRSA include:
- Places where someone is most likely to be exposed to staph or MRSA bacteria, and then to develop a staph infection, include hospitals or health care settings, nursing homes, day care facilities, athletic facilities or health clubs, military grounds, and universities. (8)
- All of these settings tend to be somewhat crowded, with people living in tight quarters and often sharing kitchen utensils, household items, linens or work-related equipment.
- Another major risk factor for developing a MRSA infection is long-term use of antibiotics, which alter the delicate balance of good probiotic bacteria to bad bacteria living in the immune system and therefore lower the body’s natural protection against foreign microbes.
- Finally, other things that can lower someone’s immunity against staph infections include having an autoimmune disorder, actively fighting another infection, healing from surgery, taking medications that suppress the immune system, smoking cigarettes or abusing drugs.
Conventional Staph Infection and MRSA Treatment
Most minor to moderate staph infections, especially those affecting the skin, are able to be treated by opening up and draining the affected area, sometimes in combination in a course of antibiotics. However, due to concerns over antibiotics and antibiotic resistance, doctors are hesitant to prescribe these medications unless completely necessary.
When antibiotics are used to treat staph infections, drugs can include cephalosporins, nafcillin, sulfa drugs or vancomycin. MRSA has been shown to be resistant to at least several types of antibiotics, however. MRSA is the most widespread type of staph that is antibiotic-resistant and causes serious infections in thousands of patients each year.
This is exactly why preventing MRSA from spreading globally is now an urgent matter. Scientists continue to explore MRSA treatment using different bacterial strains, but prevention remains the best tool we have.
Precautions with MRSA Treatment
Keep in mind that patients aren’t always able to determine they have a staph or MRSA infection just by observing symptoms — therefore always get a professional opinion if you notice symptoms. MRSA is very serious, even life-threatening, and early treatment is key.
The CDC warns that finding infections early and getting care right away provide the best chance a patient has of controlling the infection, since intervention in the early stages prevents infections from becoming severe. Rather than attempting to treat infections on your own and battle through symptoms of a rash or a fever, stay home from work or school, leave any signs of the infection alone (such as skin blisters), and avoid close contact or sharing with others until you have a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Final Thoughts on MRSA Treatment
- MRSA is a type of staph infection, bacterial infections that are caused by a common bacteria called Staphylococcus. Most staph infections are treatable, however because MRSA is resistant to several types of antibiotic treatments, it remains one of the biggest public health risks.
- Symptoms of a MRSA staph infection can become serious and severe, including severe skin rashes, food poisoning symptoms, damage to the heart and blood vessels, joint pain and symptoms of arthritis, pneumonia, and sepsis.
- Prevention is key for overcoming MRSA. Prevention tips include boosting immunity with a healthy diet, washing your hands, and cleaning and disinfecting your home/work environment regularly.
- When an infection does occur, natural MRSA treatment to help control staph infection symptoms include reducing fevers naturally, alleviating joint pain with mild heat and stretching, consuming immunity-boosting supplements, and treating skin rashes with natural products and/or essential oils.