By Rachel Ogis, Intermediate Student, 2011
Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are Gram-positive facultative anaerobes that grow in grape-like clusters and contain a pigment called staphyloxanthin which causes the characteristic golden colour of their infections. They are highly virulent, partially due to the pigment that has an antioxidant action that helps the bacteria evade death.
S. aureus occur on the skin and in the noses of healthy people without causing problems. However if the skin becomes punctured Staph bacteria can enter the wound causing a Staph infection.
Staph infections can present in several different ways. Topical infections range from folliculitis and boils, impetigo, cellulitis, and Scalded Skin Syndrome to mere pimples. Internal infections include meningitis, endocarditis, osteomyelitis peuomonia, toxic shock syndrome (TSS), bacteraemia and sepsis. It is one of the five most common causes of nosocomial infections; along with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus MRSA, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Acinetobacter baumannii, and Ventilator Associated Pneumonia (VAP).
Folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicles where tiny white-headed pimples appear at the base of the hair shafts, sometimes with a red area around each pimple. The infection can flare up on an area where there has been some friction such as after shaving. Folliculitis can worsen into a boil where the Staph infection spreads deeper and wider under the subcutaneous layer of the skin. The head can break and pus, blood or an amber coloured liquid can drain out. Boils can be treaded with warm fomentaions but be sure to either discard or carefully wash the cloths used to prevent Staph from spreading.
Impetigo can occur anywhere on the body. It is often seen in pre-schoolers and young kids especially during the summer months. Impetigo is most often seen arising in one spot where the skin was broken and it becomes an angry blister. The infection can progress to cover the whole area or other areas with small red dots that eventually form a small white head of pus. These little blisters will grow large in diameter unless treated. The blisters form a crust that is moist and yellow or amber coloured around the edges and bloodied on the top. If the crusts are removed they reform.
Cellulitis is a Staph infection that is uncommon but more serious and occurs in the deeper layers of the skin. It starts with inflammation and redness around a cut or sore and
then slowly spreads into nearby tissues. Red lines may connect the infection to nearby lymph nodes, which can also become infected and swell up. This is known as lymphadenitis.
Scaled Skin Syndrome most often affects newborns or pre-schoolers. The illness begins with a localized Staph infection but the Staph bacteria produce a toxin that causes a rash all over the body. It can be accompanied by a fever and the rash can blister. As the blisters burst, the top layer of skin peels off and the skin looks burned and red. Most children with this Syndrome are hospitalized because the infection affects the body the same way as a serious burn would, leaving them susceptible to secondary infections. Most children make a full recovery when treated properly.
MRSA is a type of staphylococcus that is resistant to the beta-lactam antibiotics and cephalosporin’s. It can cause more serious problems such as bone infections or pneumonia. Certain kinds of antibiotics given to patients will have an increased chance of secondary infection with MRSA.
These include glycopeptides, cephalosporin’s and quinolones especially flouroquinolones used to treat pneumonia.
Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. However in S. aureus or Streptococcus pneumoniae infections, the antibiotics used can lead to secondary infections from breathing tubes and MRSA colonized health care workers.
Meningitis is usually caused by infection from viruses or micro-organisms. Trauma to the skull can allow Staphylococcus bacteria to enter and cause meningitis.
Endocarditis is the inflammation of the inner layer of the heart or endocardium. A S.aureus infection of the endocardium and heart valves is hard to treat because natural defence mechanisms such as white blood cells or drugs cannot reach the tissue as the valves do not receive any dedicated blood supply. These are called acute endocarditis and have a poor prognosis for recovery.
Toxic Shock Syndrome occurs when S. aureus releases a superantigen toxin. That allows the nonspecific binding of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) II with T cell receptors. Up to 20% of the bodies T cells can be activated at one time which can cause a cytokine storm and multisystem disease and multi organ failure.
Bacteremia is the presence of bateria in the blood. This means that a localized infection can spread to other organs in the body through the bloodstream. This occurs in meningitis and endocarditis. Sepsis or blood poisoning is a whole-body inflammatory state combined with an infection. Septicemia with a pathogenic organism such as S. aureus can lead to sepsis and usually requires ICU treatment with intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
Most Staph infections can be treated herbally, but they are very contagious and can be passed easily from family member to family member. The most important thing is to clean your hands carefully, not to share the bath and to wash all clothing and wash clothes carefully after use.
Boils, Impetigo and Scaled Skin Syndrome are traditionally treated with a topical steroid ointment and oral antibiotics. However a decoction of alcohol-soaked Usnea taken orally for the duration of the infection can turn the infection around. Soak the Usnea overnight in any kind of alcohol and then decoct with water for 30 minutes. The kids don’t like the taste but you have to get it into them. The boils and impetigo can be halted with German Chamomile oil dabbed on and powdered goldenseal dusted over the scabs. Our infection took almost five weeks to clear up and the white scars or marks where the largest scabs were are still visible.
This is a photo of Saraphina with her second infection. I didn’t take any photos of the first infection in September 2010. That infection lasted 3 weeks on her. This time around it lasted only 1 week.
Around the world, different herbs have been used for treatment by indigenous peoples. In asia, Hochu-Ekki-To is a mixture that includes ginseng and is widely used for staph infections. In South America, Pau d’Arco has been used for thousands of years by healers.
My great granny used a Oplopanax horridium decoction boiled for over 12 hours internally for boils. Another good antibiotic herb I used was a decoction of Echinacea angustifolia tincture mark used both internally and topically as a wash.
This is what the bacteria look like under a microscope. They grow in clusters in contrast to the stings of spheres that Streptococcus grow in.
MRSA is a life-threatening infection. In a study by Yamada et al., 2011 they quote a 39.9% mortality rate in the MRSA infected patients treated with an immunosuppressive drug. An antibiotic treatment can no longer be relied on to take care of these infections – a herbal ally can save your life in this case. In a study by Yang et al., 2010 they found that Illicium verum – a Chinese herb called Chinese star anise showed substantial antibacterial activity against Methicillin-resistant S.aureus. It can be further developed into antibiotic medicine due to their proven antibiotic activity. In an individual case in Japan, a man was given Hochuekkito when fighting a Streptococuss pneumoniae infection and recovered after 6 months of treatment where antibiotics had previously failed to improve his condition (Nakayama et al., 2011).
MRSA are resistant to betal-lactam antibiotics and so they use a few other drugs now such as Vancomycin and some newer oxazolidonoes and daptomycin. They are administered intravenously. However these resistant strains are always adapting and there is now a Vancomycin intermediate-resistant S. aureus (VISA) strain. Psilocybe semilanceata has been shown to strongly inhibit the growth of S. aureus. Additionally, hospital staff are finding that by diffusing essential oils of lemongrass, holy basil, thyme and lavender into the hospital room, the rate of infection is drops.