MRSA II: Going in for the Kill

I’ve had to deliver the news about a MRSA or MRSP diagnosis many times, and sometimes the person on the other end of the phone line starts to panic. Yes, it’s bad news. It could end up being more expensive than the “average” skin or ear infection. In some cases, it can even spread to a human. It’s not good for the planet, that’s for sure. Even so, it is not time to panic yet. There are many ways to kill an antibiotic-resistant germ.

One of them is the standard OEM immune system. Your immune system is not especially impressed by drug-resistant bacteria, because it has no use for drugs. Instead, the immune system employs highly-trained assassins to kill germs that need killing. They are a lot more sophisticated, and usually more effective, than any pill-flinging doctor. Your immune system is fending off assailants every day, and you don’t even notice it 90% of the time. Furthermore, when a diagnosis of MRSA comes in, it arrives with a list of medicines that do have the potential to kill your uninvited guest. True, the list is sometimes quite short, and it’s likely to include medicines you never heard of. This could possibly be more expensive than you’d hoped, although that’s not always the case. You may have to order it special from a compounding pharmacy. It is vitally important, once beginning your new antibiotic therapy, that the prescription is taken exactly as directed for the entire length of time recommended. Any time we miss doses of medicine or fail to use the entire bottle, we have undermined our own plan. If the infection returns, it’s likely to come back stronger, with a shorter list of possible remedies.

One underappreciated treatment for resistant skin infections is shampoo. Medicated shampoos often contain antiseptic, which is more of an indiscriminate killer than the antibiotics. If antibiotic is the key that works on a particular lock (or microorganism), antiseptics are more of a battering ram. No key? No problem! It can be quite a job to bathe your pet several times a week, however. On the other hand, a germ can not “learn to be resistant” when faced with antiseptic shampoos, so lathering up is far better than swallowing pills for the global germ vs. doctor struggle. We’d like to keep these guys as dumb as possible; that way, we can always have the upper hand.

Just like any other organism living in or on your pet, MRSA could pose a threat to someone with a weak immune system. These are people taking chemotherapy, infected with HIV, using immunosuppressive drugs (like for an organ transplant or lupus), and so forth. It’s best to bar the MRSA patient from close contact with the immunocompromised patient until you’ve had a chance to speak with your physician about the situation.

MRSA/MRSP is a bad omen for the future of medicine, but you can handle your own small piece of the problem if you follow the directions, shampoo frequently, and stay in close contact with your vet.

Dr. M.S. Regan