Antibiotic resistance is a fascinating topic. Fascinating to study. Harrowing to experience first hand. Especially when there are children involved.
In this video I am going to start by describing what my family, my community and I experienced during a micro-epidemic of MRSA (Antibiotic Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) that developed over the course of two years, and which peaked between December of 2015 and August of 2016, leaving me with a visceral sensation of my mortality, and a hole in my right lung. Throughout this account we will point out mistakes that were made and lessons that were learned along the way. At several points in this crisis I would have died if I listened to the doctors, and it was only by completely abandoning their approach that we broke out of the antibiotic spiral. Finally, we’ll describe an alternative treatment protocol we developed to get the infection under control. Given the rise of antibiotic resistance, this information will likely be relevant to you or those that you love within your lifetime.
Note: At the end of this article we will include information that did not fit into the video.
My first close encounter with this bacteria was in 2013 when an infection that started as a small pimple on my knee began spreading rapidly underneath my skin. This condition is known as cellulitis. I had never heard of such a thing, and didn’t realize I was in danger until it became so painful I could hardly walk.
The infection did not respond to the initial dosage of antibiotics (the swelling was advancing several inches per hour) so I was given a large injection. I recovered, but from that point on I found myself highly susceptible to infections. Even the smallest scratches or cuts would get out of control. The antibiotics had destroyed an important element of my natural defenses.
On Thursday December 10th of 2015 I discovered an abscess near my tailbone when I sat down on it rupturing it internally. This pushed the bacteria into my blood stream. At first it wasn’t clear what had happened. Within hours I had a fever. By that night I was having cold sweats, and intense pain. These were symptoms of sepsis, an infection of the blood. It’s a life threatening condition. However I attributed the symptoms to a cold I had caught from my children. At the time I had a mild cough.
By the end of the next day I knew I had a serious problem. The wound had begun to turn black, the pain had become unbearable, and I was so feverish that I could barely walk. It was Friday afternoon and our family doctor was closed, so I decided to wait until Monday. This was a mistake. When you have sepsis it is crucial that you get medical attention immediately. Every hour counts.
By Saturday evening it was clear that I couldn’t afford to wait any longer. So Sunday morning I went to the hospital and after several hours of waiting I received three large injections of antibiotics (amoxicillin and ampicillin). My fever was at 102.9 in spite of a large dose of paracetamol. I was then sent home with a prescription for amoxicillin. If I had trusted the doctors at this point, and taken no further action I would have died.
Twenty four hours later my fever had still not gone down, and the pain had only gotten worse. I called our family doctor and he told me to come in immediately. Any time you have sepsis caused by an abscess it is extremely important to get the abscess physically drained as soon as possible. By themselves, antibiotics are not enough to save you once sepsis has set in. You must prevent new bacteria from entering the blood.
After my doctor drained the abscess surgically I asked him to take a culture to determine what we were dealing with. He didn’t think this was necessary and he brushed the idea aside. In our subsequent interactions with the medical establishment we found that this is extremely common. Doctors rarely want to go to the trouble of performing a full culture for common infections. Sometimes they flat out refuse. In the age of antibiotic resistance this is a serious problem.
12 hours after the surgery the fever and pain began to subside. However throughout the duration of the prescription I still had cold sweats at night, and during the day I felt weak. For some reason the cough wasn’t going away either.
After the antibiotics were finished the cold sweats continued, the fatigue got worse, and I began to lose my appetite. I waited two weeks to go back to the doctor. By that time the cough had gotten worse, I had a constant pain in my chest, and I was sweating so much at night that I would go through three sets of garments by morning. I was also having flushes of pimples, rashes and swelling appear all over my body simultaneously. When I described my symptoms the doctor ordered a chest x-ray, and put me on a new antibiotic: ciprofloxacin.
The chest x-ray results were shocking. I was told that I had a 1.6 centimeter hole in my right lung and scarification on both sides. This damage was permanent.
Based on the symptoms the doctor assumed that I had tuberculosis, and three weeks were wasted on tests that turned out to be useless. The results for TB were negative. In the meantime I had began coughing up blood and pus.
The hole in my lung was caused by a lung abscess. Once staph gets into your blood it can travel anywhere in your body causing new infections. The common cough that I had acquired from my children had created a weak point in my lungs which allowed the infection to take hold. Unfortunately, combined with the fatigue and night sweats, the symptoms were indistinguishable from those of tuberculosis. Due to this misdiagnosis the proper tests were not performed until too late. We still didn’t know for sure what kind of bacteria we were dealing with.
After two weeks on a new antibiotic, azithromycin, the cough finally subsided and the night sweats stopped, so the doctor didn’t renew the prescription. This was January 24th.
Within three days of ending the antibiotics the night sweats returned, and I began to have flushes of pimples appear in random parts of my body again. At this point I resisted returning to the doctor. I no longer had any confidence in their approach.
However after about two months, the night sweats were becoming unbearable, and some of the pimples were developing into large abscesses. So finally I scheduled an appointment to get one of the abscess cultured.
The results of the culture confirmed what I suspected. It was antibiotic resistant staph, and there were only a few medications that it was sensitive to. I was placed on one of these, co-trimoxazole (Bactrim), for over a month.
At this stage we began to do our own research. The doctors had given us absolutely no information about this bacteria or how to control it. We discovered that staph is highly contagious. It can survive on surfaces and fabrics for several weeks, and it can easily pass from person to person through casual contact.
We also discovered that MRSA was rampant in the community. Once we recognized the symptoms we realized that it had been circulating among the children in the form of impetigo (which is caused by staph) for over a year. This became a serious problem. After the cotrimoxazole prescription ended, I was immediately reinfected by one of my friend’s children. My body was completely unable to defend itself and I still didn’t know why.
I didn’t want to get on antibiotics again so I began trying home remedies. Some of these remedies seemed to help, some made it worse, but nothing stopped it completely. Then one of the infections got out of control and began spreading rapidly through my arm. I was forced to go back to the doctor.
By the time we got a new culture done, it showed that the bacteria had developed resistance to all the previous antibiotics and there were only two medications left that could be taken without an i.v.: Tetracycline and Rifampicin. To prevent it from gaining resistance I was placed on both of these at the same time.
When the doctor removed the scab, we discovered that the infection had dug hole into my forearm a full 1/4 inch deep. Because it was so deep it took just over two months to heal. I continued taking both of these antibiotics for that entire period. By the time the hole had closed I was already seeing signs that the bacteria had acquired resistance.
During this two month period I had self quarantined to avoid reinfection. My children were visiting their grandparents and one of them had been put on antibiotics during the visit to fight her own infection. Just before they returned her symptoms came back. At this point it was clear that I was going to get reinfected. It was also clear that antibiotics were a dead end. We had to find an alternate solution.
After some research we implemented a protocol which included eliminating vectors of transmission, dietary and lifestyle changes, probiotics and oregano oil as an internal supplement. This protocol helped, and may have eventually worked on its own, however what stopped the infection in its tracks was an experimental technique that we developed based on how bacteria operate.
After each round of antibiotics since the first infection in 2013 I had taken probiotic pills to reestablish the bacteria that normally inhabit the digestive system. Antibiotics wipe these out, and there are a number of secondary symptoms that can occur as a result (candida infestation for example). However these probiotic pills were only effective for rebuilding the bacteria in the gut, it doesn’t help with the bacteria of the skin. Healthy skin is colonized by good bacteria which form our first line of defense. Killing it creates a vacuum. After months of heavy antibiotics I had totally wiped out my skin’s ecosystem.
Once I realized this, it dawned on me that I had to find a way to repopulate the good bacteria on the skin. To do so I started by buying a bottle of wide spectrum probiotics in capsule form. (You can get this at any good health food store, and you can even order it from Amazon.) I then created a culture of this bacteria by emptying the contents of one capsule into a 1 quart jar of cooled black tea with 1 cup sugar. I then covered the jar with a cloth and set it in on a shelf. (This is based on the formula used for Kombucha and Kefir which contain many of the same strains of bacteria.) Within a few days we could see signs that the bacteria was colonizing the solution.
After being in contact with my daughter I had already developed several small pimples even though I was still taking tetracycline and rifampicin. So I dropped the antibiotics completely and we began applying the tea to our entire body after each shower. We would exit the shower without rinsing off the tea and dry off with a clean towel.
The effect was immediate. The pimples cleared up completely, in spite of the fact that I was re-exposed to staph several times. Cuts and scrapes no longer became infected by default. Normal cleaning and bandaging was enough to allow them to heal.
The dead cells on the surface of our skin is a food source for many types of bacteria. It is quite literally an ecosystem. One way or another that ecosystem is going to be occupied. Avoiding exposure to bad bacteria is impossible. Staph is everywhere, in fact 20% of the population carry it at all times. The only long term protection is to fill that niche with strains that are beneficial.
It’s important to note, however, that the overall state of one’s immune system is a critical variable. During this infection I experienced first hand the correlation between too little sleep, exhaustion, poor diet, and stress and the symptoms. Unfortunately most doctors neglect to mention any of this. Most resort to antibiotics by default, and often prescribe them improperly or when they aren’t needed at all. If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
There are a number of experimental therapies (Bacteriophage therapy for example) which hold promise for the treatment of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the future, but it may be years before these are widely available. In the meantime, if you or your family find yourself dealing with an infection that just won’t go away, it’s important to realize that conventional medicine may not be able to help you, and that your doctor may pressure you to pursue treatments that only make your condition worse. That’s a frightening reality to come to terms with, but if you do your research, and take responsibility for your own health, there is hope.
Additional Information on Preventing and Managing MRSA Outbreaks
MRSA outbreaks often begin with a rash or tiny pimples may seem innocuous at first. These symptoms can appear 1-2 days after being in contact with someone who has an active infection. It is highly important to treat these right away and not wait until they progress. If you catch an infection in the beginning it can usually be stopped if you isolate them by cleaning the surface with povidone iodine, applying the proper antibacterial cream and then bandaging. Do not use an over the counter triple anti-biotic cream such as Neosporin. These simply do not work with MRSA. Fusidic acid and mupirocin are very effective especially if applied together. Fusidic acid stops the growth of bacteria and facilitates wound drainage. Mupirocin actively kills bacteria and is able to absorb into the skin to stop abscesses from growing. These creams require a prescription.
Avoid the temptation to squeeze MRSA pimples or abscesses. Often a MRSA pimple or abscess will look like a common pimple, and when it surfaces it may seem like it would be easy to pop, however the infection may be deeper than it seems, and squeezing often leads to complications, especially if you are dealing with a chronic condition. Do not assume that your doctor will know this. On two occasions I had doctors squeeze active MRSA infections without asking first. Both times led to complications (cellulitis).
Protect Your Immune System. If you have a serious staph infection it is important to do everything you can to help your immune system win. - Cut out alcohol completely. Binging even just once has a significant impact on the immune system. The effects can begin in as little as 20 minutes. - Reduce refined sugars as much as possible. Studies have found that sugar consumption reduces the effectiveness of our white blood cells. - Avoid repeated sessions of heavy labor or exercise. Studies have found that even just two consecutive days of heavy exercise or labor weaken the immune system. A separate study found that three days of consecutive exercise lowers lymphocyte counts. - If you have an active MRSA infection bathe obsessively (especially when doing physical work). Staph spreads through sweat and grows very, very rapidly. If you are doing 8 hour work days you should shower at least once in the middle of the day to reset bacterial growth. - Disinfect obsessively and avoid reusing contaminated items. For example I had a pair of work gloves that I realized were spreading the infection on my hands. Staph can live for weeks or months on fabrics and surfaces. It pays to get paranoid about these things.
Notes on Probiotic Cultures
- Make sure you are starting with a live culture. We used Solaray Multidophilus which is available in most healthfood stores (and on Amazon). Probiotics must be kept refrigerated. If your bottle has gotten exposed to heat you will see much less bacterial growth.
- I generally use about 1 cup of sugar for one quart of water/tea. This doesn’t have to be precise. The most important thing is to avoid starving the bacteria. As the sugar is consumed by the bacteria, more can be added.
- As the culture grows it will gradually convert the sugar into alcohol and then the alcohol into vinegar (acetic acid). Oxygen is necessary for breaking down the alcohol into vinegar (hence the use of a cloth to cover it).
- Probiotic bacteria grow best at warm temperatures. If you want to slow down a culture or preserve it for later use it can be sealed and refrigerated.
- Grow your culture until you see strands of bacteria floating in the liquid. This will take a few days at minimum. Eventually these strands will clump into a gooey blob that floats on the surface. With kombucha this is called a scobi. In general a probiotic culture is indistinguishable from kombucha tea.
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