MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a bacterium that belongs to the large group of bacteria known as Staphylococci, often referred to as staph. Interestingly, while an estimated 25% to 30% of people have staph within the nose, it normally does not cause an infection. While only 1% of the population has MRSA, it can be responsible for serious infections, because the bacterium is resistant to numerous antibiotics, including methicillin and penicillin.
Infections with MRSA most frequently strike hospitals and other institutional health-care settings, such as nursing homes, where they tend to prey on the immunocompromised. In health-care settings, MRSA is a frequent cause of surgical wound infections, urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections (sepsis), and pneumonia.
However, MRSA outbreaks are becoming increasingly common in the community setting. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that a prospective study in 2003 found that 12% of clinical MRSA infections are now "community-associated" – abbreviated as CA-MRSA. As the name implies, CA-MRSA infections occur in people who have not been hospitalized nor had a medical procedure performed in the past year, and who do not have immune deficiency. CA-MRSA infections are usually skin infections, such as abscesses, boils, and other pus-filled lesions in otherwise healthy people.
Most staph skin infections, including MRSA, appear as a bump or infected area on the skin that may be red, swollen, painful, warm to the touch, full of pus or other drainage, or accompanied by a fever. Because of the vagary of these symptoms, the CDC reports that Americans visit the doctor approximately 12 million times each year to get checked for suspected staph or MRSA skin infection.
MRSA is typically transmitted from people with active infections. Four simple steps can prevent and reduce the spread of MRSA.
1. Know the signs of MRSA and get it treated early.
As with all regular staph infections, recognizing the signs and receiving treatment for MRSA skin infection in the early stages reduces the chances of its becoming severe. You can get MRSA through direct contact with an infected person or by sharing personal items that have touched infected skin.
Treatment may include having a health-care professional drain the infection. People should not attempt to drain the infection themselves, as doing so could worsen or spread it to others.
2. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered.
If you or someone in your family experiences these signs and symptoms, cover the area with a bandage and contact your health-care professional. It is especially important to contact your health-care professional if symptoms of an MRSA skin infection are accompanied by a fever.
3. Encourage good hygiene.
Good hygiene is the most effective way to prevent MRSA infections and the recurrence of treated lesions. Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. As noted above, keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
4. Discourage sharing of personal items, sources from which MRSA can spread from person to person.
Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.
MRSA is now a global health concern. It is highly virulent and can cause a large number of serious illnesses that do not respond well to current medical treatment. MRSA has adapted in ways that allow it to resist a number of antibiotics. This adaptation, or evolution, has been accomplished by mutation of the genetic material contained in S. aureus. MRSA was first noted in 1961, about two years after methicillin was initially used to treat S. aureus and other infectious bacteria. Thus, we turn our attention to two natural substances that may help win the war against the MRSA superbug.
Used as a skin treatment, honey prevents infection and speeds healing by starving existing bacteria and protecting the skin from infection by new bacteria. Researchers have shown that the high sugar content of honey actually slows bacterial growth, while its thick, syrupy texture acts as a seal over wounds, forming a natural barrier against any potential bacterial invaders. Furthermore, in its undiluted form, contains intense concentrations of substances that can kill many types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In seven consecutive patients whose wounds were either infected or colonized with MRSA, antiseptics and antibiotics had failed to eradicate the clinical signs of infection. A clinical team from University of Bonn (Germany) instead utilized honey to achieve full healing.
Blaser G, Santos K, Bode U, Vetter H, Simon A. Effect of medical honey on wounds colonised or infected with MRSA. J Wound Care. 2007 Sep;16(8):325–328.
A team of researchers from Belfast City Hospital (Ireland) found that three types of honey produced from bees in Northern Ireland and one commercial French honey eradicated a culture of CA-MRSA to none detectable within 24 hours of co-culturing with all four types. Interestingly, inoculated honey remained positive for CA-MRSA until 72 hours postinoculation, after which point no culturable organisms could be detected. Concludes the team: "This study demonstrated that, in vitro, these natural products had an antimicrobial activity against the CA-MRSA organisms."
Maeda Y, Loughrey A, Earle JA, et al. Antibacterial activity of honey against community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA). Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2008 May;14(2):77–82. Epub 2008 Mar 4.
A group from Oslo University Hospital (Norway) incubated various strains of bacteria, including MRSA, and then applied honey to the bacteria growths. Norwegian Forest Honey was found to be bactericidal against all the strains of bacteria. The researchers urge: "Reintroduction of honey as a conventional wound treatment may help improve individual wound care, prevent invasive infections, eliminate colonization, interrupt outbreaks and thereby preserve current antibiotic stocks."
Merckoll P, Jonassen TO, Vad ME, Jeansson SL, Melby KK. Bacteria, biofilm and honey: A study of the effects of honey on ‘planktonic' and biofilm-embedded chronic wound bacteria. Scand J Infect Dis. 41(5):341–347. Epub 2009 Mar 23.
A group from the University of East London (UK) studied the effect of allicin, the main antibacterial agent isolated from garlic, on 30 clinical isolates of MRSA, including strains of CA-MRSA. Allicin was able to inhibit all MRSA strains, and the garlic compound demonstrated bactericidal properties.
Cutler RR, Wilson P. Antibacterial activity of a new, stable, aqueous extract of allicin against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Br J Biomed Sci. 2004;61(2):71–74.
Using a laboratory model mimicking the MRSA infection, researchers from the Chung Shan Medical University Hospital (Taiwan) found that sulfur compounds present in garlic significantly decreased MRSA viability in the kidney, and decreased both interleukin (IL)-6 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha – markers of inflammation. The team states: "These data suggest that [sulfur compounds in garlic] could provide multiple protective functions against MRSA infection."
Tsao SM, Liu WH, Yin MC. Two diallyl sulphides derived from garlic inhibit meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection in diabetic mice. J Med Microbiol. 2007 Jun;56(Pt 6):803–808.
Your Superbug Survival Strategy need not rely on drugs or other potentially toxic agents. Instead of insisting on antibiotics when you visit your doctor for an infection, opt for good hygiene and proven natural strategies. In the long run, doing so may not only help you recover from a bout with a bug faster, but may very well boost your overall healthspan and lifespan also.
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