by Allan Sosin, M.D.
American Reporter Correspondent
April 13, 2008
OVERUSE OF ANTIBIOTICS SPREADS DEADLY STAPH
IRVINE, Calif. -- The deadly MRSA - methicillin-resistant staph aureus - is a common cause of infections involving the skin, respiratory and urinary tracts, and the bloodstream. But smart doctoring helps prevent its spread, and a simple, inexpensive nasal spray may be one of the best ways to avoid it.
In the hospital, MRSA is a frequent cause of wound infections. In the past, most staph aureus infections could be eradicated with methicillin. The increasing emergence of antibiotic-resistant staph aureus has made treatment much more difficult, and caused patients to have prolonged illnesses and complications, at great cost.
The majority of staph aureus infections in hospital are now caused by MRSA. Patients who become infected and would otherwise have uneventful and brief hospital stays have required intensive treatment with a powerful array of antibiotics.
Why is this happening? Most likely it is because of the frequent use of antibiotics in hospitals and in general medical practice. Bacteria have a remarkable ability to adapt to adverse circumstances, and to develop resistance to antibiotics that once were effective in killing them.
We use antibiotics to excess. Respiratory infections are commonly treated with antibiotics, even though most of them are caused by viruses, for which antibiotics are useless. Even sinus infections, once thought to be caused by bacteria, are primarily viral in origin. A recent study revealed that antibiotics provide no faster rate of cure in sinus infections than placebo. Nevertheless, doctors prescribe antibiotics, and patients request them, in the mistaken belief that illness will be shortened. Most of the time, the antibiotics offer no benefit, and they act to promote resistance in bacteria exposed to them. You can imagine how strong an organism can become after exposure to a dozen different antibiotics in the hospital setting.
Fortunately, there is a way out. Colonization occurs before infection, meaning that MRSA begins to reproduce on skin and in nasal mucous membranes, prior to the onset of active infection. Therefore, if this colonization can be aborted, infection can be prevented. Doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel carry MRSA from patient to patient through physical contact with contaminated skin and respiratory secretions, and with contaminated equipment such as stethoscopes.
An aggressive program of surveillance and topical therapy has been effective in reducing the carrier rate of MRSA. (Universal Surveillance for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus in 3 Affiliated Hospitals, Annals of Internal Medicine, 18 March, 2008, pp 408-418). Patients who were found to be colonized with MRSA were isolated, managed with dedicated equipment, and treated for several days with a topical nasal antibiotic and an antibacterial skin wash, chlorhexidine.
The rate of hospital-acquired MRSA infections was reduced by 70% in less than 2 years. This is a remarkable accomplishment, given the simplicity of the measures employed. These same simple measures would likely be effective in all hospitals.
Simple measures in my own practice have been very effective in reducing infections, without the need for antibiotics. I recommend daily use of a nasal spray containing saltwater and xylitol, a natural sugar that suppresses the growth of organisms. Two squirts in each nostril, every morning and every night, without fail, washes secretions, bacteria and viruses out of the nose and sinuses. Infection occurs when these organisms are allowed to linger and reproduce. Many patients have told me they get sick much less often, and recover faster.
I have used the nasal spray myself for over a year, and have not been sick. Allergic patients also benefit, since the spray washes pollen, dust and other allergens from the nasal tissues. The spray should be used especially after being in crowded places with contaminated air, such as airplanes. If I start to feel congested, I use the spray every hour or two, and symptoms resolve within a day. Some patients with chronic sinus conditions like to use a Neti pot, a more elaborate method of irrigating the sinuses with saltwater, usually containing an herbal antiseptic like grapeseed extract and zinc.
It also helps to wash the hands frequently with soap and water, and not to touch the face after shaking hands. The most effective way of preventing respiratory infections in children is to have them wash their hands regularly.
I recommend probiotics, a mixture of beneficial bacteria in a capsule or powder, for anyone taking antibiotics, to be continued for the next month. Antibiotics destroy the good bacteria normally residing in our intestines, and set the stage for intestinal imbalances, and for yeast infections in the mouth, throat, vagina, and skin. Probiotics, including lactobacillus and bifidobacter, restore desirable bacteria to the mouth and intestinal tract.
Non-drug therapies for respiratory infections include high doses of vitamin C, gargles with colloidal silver, zinc, and high dose vitamin A. We have often used intravenous doses of vitamin C, along with zinc and other nutrients, to help people get over infections more quickly, and to prevent infection during times of increased susceptibility, such as elective surgery or stress.
Antibiotics may be necessary, and may save lives, but preventive measures often avert the need for them, and alternative approaches can be more effective. The simple measures described above can save you a lot of time and trouble, and extra visits to doctors' offices.
Allan Sosin, M.D., a board-certified internist and nephrologist with over 35 years of experience, founded The Institute for Progressive Medicine. He is based in Irvine, Calif.