In this post, I'm going to tell you exactly what it was, and how you can avoid this serious issue that is an $8 billion health care cost in the USA alone, affects nearly a million people a year, and kills 5% of the people who get it (resulting in more deaths than from AIDS).
Why am I talking about a “disease” on a fitness and nutrition blog?
Because if you spend any amount of time in a gym or locker room, on a turf or field, or if you ever wind up in a hospital for anything, then what I'm about to tell you could save you a ton of trouble. I certainly wish I'd known about it before it happened to me.
Now I'm going to warn that those of you who are disturbed by gory pictures of nasty wounds will NOT want to click on any of the photo links in this blog post. I'm dead serious. You can still read the post, but don't click on the picture links.
I know that some of you want me to start with the good stuff, so here we go.
About 4 weeks ago, I started getting these weird red bumps on my skin, particularly on my left butt and thigh. About half a dozen of them.
Even though they seemed like more of a “boil”, I figured they were pressure-based saddle sores from riding my bike.
For 3 weeks, I treated these boils naturally – using a combination of tea tree oil, oregano oil and manuka honey, all of which have good anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Although this natural treatment seemed to work, a few of the boils got a bit nasty and left little scars and pocks on my leg.
Little did I know that what was actually causing the boils was living inside me, and no matter what I put on my skin, I was simply killing the disease in one place so that it could pop up in another.
And then, just a little over a week ago, one of the boils on my hamstring took on a life of it's own.
Within 12 hours, it had grown and “exploded” into an oozing sore, and my entire lymph node on the front side of my groin was swollen and extremely painful.
I began to get the chills, and then the sweats, and broke out into a raging fever.
My entire left thigh began to swell and turn pink, with red streaks traveling up my leg towards my heart.
I contacted my naturopath, who I should have contacted much earlier, and he got me on goldenseal, which is a potent anti-bacterial. But I knew that by that point, I had acted too late, and hopped in the truck to drive myself to the emergency room.
When I arrived at the ER, the doctor took one look at the nasty, gaping wound that had opened up on my leg, and diagnosed me with MRSA.
He then took a scalpel, cut me open, and quite painfully shoved nearly 20 cc's of smelly, disgusting pus and blood out of the wound.
I was promptly placed on IV antibiotic and prescribed the antibiotics Clindamycin and Sulfameth, although the lab still needed 48 hours to culture the wound and find out exactly which strains of antibiotics this MRSA was resistant to. I immediately implemented my antibiotic defense regimen to limit the damage of the pharmaceuticals, and left the ER with a wound full of packing gauze and a serious limp.
Although I let the issue go on for way too long without taking appropriate action (I didn't know any better), it was good that I finally went to the hospital, because this infection eventually penetrates into the body bones, joints – and even your heart and lungs can become infected. These types of infections can be life threatening, and usually are the reason that death would occur from MRSA.
So I went home, and when I woke up the next day, this is what it looked like.
At this point, I should back it up a bit. What exactly is this MRSA stuff?
MRSA is an abbreviation for “methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus”, which is basically a bacterial “staph” infection that is resistant to many standard antibiotics.
Many of us (about 30% of all people) have staphylococcus aureus bugs harmlessly hanging around on our skin or nose. This means we're colonized with staph, and that we carry the bacteria but shows no clinical signs or symptoms of infection. It's just basically hitching a ride on us (interestingly, most often in our nose).
But sometimes, usually when you've got a cut, scrape, road rash, or any other opening on your skin surface, the staphylococcus aureus gets to where it’s not supposed to be, and if your immune system isn’t up to the challenge, you end up with a staph infection.
There's two types of staph infections – one that you can get in a hospital from things like dialysis, catheters or feeding tubes (healthcare associated) and the other type from a combination of activities in which a cut or open wound are likely combined with being in close contact with others’ skin, towels or equipment (community associated).
The latter is exactly what happened to me last year after I did a hard triathlon (which suppressed my immune system), then worked out at the gym with a small cut on my elbow. Here's the story from that unpleasant adventure.
For a long time, antibiotics did a pretty good job fighting off staph infections in people like me, until the staph began to adapt to the infections. A few of the more adaptive bacteria survived antibiotics, multiplied and created more staph just like them – resistant to antibiotics. These new antibiotic resistant bugs are called “Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus” or MRSA, and can be resistant to amoxicillin, penicillin, oxacillin, and many other standard antibiotics.
So while about 30% of us are colonized with staph, less than 2% of us are colonized with MRSA, and it turns out I'm one of the lucky ones – and if you happen to get any open parts of your skin exposed to staph or MRSA living in hospital, gym, locker room or turf, you could become colonized too.
At this point, 7 days ago, I was sitting at home, still pumped up on antibiotics. I had the packing gauze removed two days later and…
…here is what my wound looked like – basically a big gaping hole in my leg.
I began researching ways to get this MRSA out of my body for good, while at the same time trying to heal up my wounds as quickly as possible by using manuka honey and Silvasorb (after all, I was on doctor's orders not to even think about doing a triathlon, but scheduled to race Ironman Japan in just 7 days).
So what did I find out about natural remedies for MRSA?
Primarily, the most important thing I learned is that when it comes to natural MRSA remedies, essential oils are the key.
Basically, essential oils are the immune system of plants. They can be extracted from plants in a concentrated form, and have potent antimicrobial, antifungal or antiviral properties. Of course, my mistake is that I was putting the essential oils on my skin when I should have been ingesting them (diluted) and breathing them in (via a cold air diffuser)
So why are essential oils more effective than antibiotics against staph and MRSA?
Because they're comprised of literally thousands of chemical components that can be very difficult for bacteria to become resistant to.
You need to be careful, because essential oils vary quite a bit in terms of quality and composition, and you're wasting your time unless you use high quality therapeutic grade essential oils.
Once you have the essential oils, here's how to use them…
1) Diffusion: Diffusing essential oils into the air can reduce airborne bacteria like MRSA and staph, and is also an effective way to get the oil into your body through the lungs. You need to use a cold air diffuser because heating the oil can decrease it's effectiveness. For our house, we're cold-air diffusing 15 drops of an equal parts blend of tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil three times per day.
2) Ingestion: to kill off my MRSA colony, three times a day I'm ingesting the following essential oil blends…
1. An anti-fungal blend diluted in a natural grapeseed carrier oil that includes Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), Black Cumin (Nigella Sativa), Frankincense (Boswellia carterii), Raven Sara (Ravensara aromatica), Dill (Anethum graveolens), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Geranium (Pelargonium roseum), Eucalyptus (Eucaluptus globulus), Oregano (Origanum vulgare), Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea), and German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita).
2. An antibacterial blend containing Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), Raven Sara (Ravensara aromatica), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ct. verbenone), Rosalina (Melaleuca ericifolia), Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus ct radiata), Clove (Eugenia caryophyllata), Pine (Pinus sylvestris), and Peppermint (Mentha piperita).
I personally got these blends from www.beyoungeo.com. They're a multilevel marketing company, but I'm not a rep and have no financial affiliation with them. They were just the most convenient place to get the blends. Another very good brand of essential oils is “Biobotanical Research“, and the two products of theirs to use would be Biocidin and Envirocidin.
Yes, I realize there's a bit of an expense with these fancier blends, so if you spend time in gyms or locker rooms, don't actually have a serious MRSA issue, just want prevention and peace of mind, and also don't want the hassle or expense of doing the mixes I'm doing, I'd at least recommend you consider doing 10-15 drops of oil of oregano, twice a day.
But diffusion and ingestion are not the only things I'm using essential oils for. I'm also…
3) Rinsing: to get the staph off my skin, I'm adding the following mixes into my regular liquid soap –
-Lavender 25 drops
-Tea Tree 20 drops
-Rosemary 20 drops
-Sandalwood 10 drops
For these type of single use oils, my wife and I shop at Mountain Rose Herbs, which sells good, high quality stuff. I'm also keeping a sanitizing spray in my gym bag, which is 1-2 ounces witch hazel oil with 5-10 drops of each of the following essential oils: Tea Tree, Lavender, Eucalyptus and Geranium.
4) Laundry: we use the natural laundry detergent Seventh Generation, but we're also adding several drops of tea tree essential oil to the laundry.
And of course, I'm continuing my normal immune system boosting protocol of regular probiotic and fermented food intake, lots of alkaline based foods and greens powders, cod liver oil and vitamin D. I also use as many immune-boosting foods as possible when I cook, including garlic, turmeric and mushrooms.
The boils have completely gone away.
My leg seems to be healing up, and I'm actually writing this blog post from Japan, the night before the race.
Here are a few more MRSA wound healing pics for you medical geeks out there, from the point that I had the wound packing removed…
–Today (day before race)
So I didn't lose my leg and I'm going to be OK (I actually did end up racing Japan Half Ironman and set a half-marathon of 1:22) , but I just couldn't go through a medical issue like this without sharing the valuable lessons that I've learned with you, because you deserve to know this stuff, especially if you're the type of active individual who lives a life of adventure, cuts, scrapes, bruises, and potential exposure to staph or MRSA.
So, what are the take away points for you?
1. If you get boils or red spots, don't ignore them or assume they're harmless.
3. If you are regularly in gyms or locker rooms, have kids who play for sports teams, you work in a hospital, etc. then do your laundry and clean your home with essential oils.
4. If you get an under-the-skin staph or MRSA infection, you may be able to avoid my mistake and control it with very frequent and heavy essential oil use, along with goldenseal tincture (very potent oral/topical antibacterial).
5. If you already have MRSA and are just trying to get the wounds to heal faster, use manuka honey and Silvasorb topically. It worked very well for me, although I'll likely still have some scarring due to the severity of my outbreak.
Questions, comments or feedback about staph, MRSA or natural remedies for MRSA? Leave them below. Finally, I am not a doctor, none of this should be considered medical advice, and you should consult with your physician if you have or think you have any medical condition.