Stopping Staph Infections
August 24, 2013 12:14 AM   Subscribe

What are you supposed to do to minimize being reinfected with staph? So far the only advice I've gotten from doctors is "wash your hands more" but I do that already and it's not helping.

I have a long-term, low-grade staph infection all over my body. It typically manifests as either hardcore sinusitis or boils and acne-like lesions and this week it's the latter. Yay me. I still don't know how I'm being reinfected (especially on my face) so I'd love to hear if there are other things I should be doing to minimize my re-exposure.

I already do what Google tells me to do:
• wash my sheets and towels with hot water and bleach weekly
• don't re-use towels or let my apartment get too steamy
• feel like I'm somehow unclean because I keep getting reinfected, even though I know everyone's got staph in some way

What next? Do I also need to get rid of my makeup brushes or my Olay brush heads or something even if I clean those regularly too? Was I supposed to have thrown away my towels and sheets, not just bleach the hell out of them? There's nothing dietary about getting a staph infection, is there?
posted by These Birds of a Feather to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Can you disinfect the makeup brushes, beyond regular cleaning? If not, I would toss them.

Quite honestly though, I would be more concerned about the makeup itself, especially if it's something you're brushing on. All of our makeup is full of germs, that's why "they" say not to share makeup, especially not mascara, for eye infections. The whole, dipping, wiping on your skin, dipping back in, wiping on your skin again process introduces lots of our germs into the makeup. You might have to toss that, and stick to qtips/disposable cotton makeup pads for application that you use for ONE dip each (or just use stuff that can be squeezed out of a tube) and then see if it helps...
posted by cairdeas at 12:44 AM on August 24, 2013

New toothbrush? Definitely wash your makeup brushes anyway, but for you maybe using disposable applicators (or forgoing makeup when you can) is smarter right now. Depending on your pillow contents, you can wash them too, not just the covers.
posted by Mizu at 12:48 AM on August 24, 2013

There's nothing dietary about getting a staph infection, is there?
Improper nutrition, lack of sleep and stress all lower your body's immune defences thus decreasing your body's ability to fight off the infection.
posted by Kerasia at 1:29 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Since you are complaining of the issue all over your body, here is my suggestion. I have had problems with folliculitis, and this regimen has helped.

Try Epsom salts as a bath soak. any where to a half to a full cup of crystals in a warm bath. Avoid too hot of water. that can cause excessive drying and irritation. After soaking a bit, exfoliate gently with a fresh washcloth each time you soak. Don't scrub too hard, just enough to remove the lose skin cells. The Epsom salts seems to discourage the bad bacteria without destroying the good natural flora of your skin. Get the "cheap" stuff, not scented or fancy named. I go through a lot of Epsom salts. If you want to have it scented add a little essential oils or do as I do and add a bit of foo foo bath salts just for the smell.

Now, if these lesions tend to be located around hair follicles, you may need to also moisturize. I know this seems counter intuitive, but chronic inflammation around hair follicles can be a problem and provides a breeding ground for the nasties. Use the inexpensive body oils that many chain drugstores have in the bath oil section. You only need a tiny bit. Apply it after stepping out of the tub and lightly toweling off. Fresh towel every time. I don't add it to the bath water any more because it all stays on the sides and floor of the tub. Besides messy, I use too much, it is messy and a slip hazard. A bit in the palm of my hand and apply all over. Not heavy. you want most of it to be drawn into the outer layer of skin and sealing in a tiny bit of moisture from your bath.

As far as the sinusitis, no insult intended, but don't pick at or around your nose. Keep the area around your nostrils clean. Don't over scrub, but do pay special attention to hygiene there. Try not to "sniff", by sucking drainage back up into your nose. Don't dig with a Kleenex. If congestion or or build up is a problem, try using a facial steamer.

Make sure your makeup is fresh. Don't sample at makeup counters. Your tears drain into your nose.

As far as acne, we all touch our faces more than we should. I really like gentle cleansers such as the Aveeno line. Cleans without stripping. I have even done warm soaks with Epsom Salt soaked washcloths. No, I don't own stock in a manufacturer of the stuff.

Also, pay close attention the the hairline and behind your ears and in the folds of the ears. Nice little spots for the nasties to hang out.

So soaking in a mineral solution, exfoliate, moisturize if needed and hands off face. I am sure you wash your hands. But bathing can do wonders at reducing the staph load. You don't have to use industrial strength soaps or detergents. Its the constant removal of dead skin cell and old body oils and keeping skin integrity in tip top shape that helps.

It is a constant battle. I can't go long skimping on the regimen. I usually notice fairly quickly when I slack.
posted by moonlily at 2:04 AM on August 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

Try bleach baths! Google for the correct ratio.
posted by bq at 4:10 AM on August 24, 2013

Has your doc tested you for MRSA? It would be a slightly uncomfortable nasal swab (where MRSA collects). If you're positive, there's a special eradication procedure including multiple oral antibiotics, a topical nasal antibiotic, antimicrobial soap, etc.
posted by novelgazer at 5:01 AM on August 24, 2013

Re: washing makeup brushes, clean them in (isopropyl) alcohol. Does not harm the brush and they dry almost instantly. Saw this on one of the Goss Makeup Youtube tutorials.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:53 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Take a vacation to Tbilisi, Georgia? Phage therapy, which may work for you, has been part of the standard of care there since the 1930s. There are pretty cheap flights with EU safety standards these days from Frankfurt or Ankara if you can pay to get that far and it is a gorgeous place to visit.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:07 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I got staph (in my case, MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staph) from a gym once, passed it to my then-boyfriend, who ended up re-infecting me several times. Basically every 2-3 months I'd get a really painful deep boil somewhere, including on my face. Fun!

After the face one, I went to the doc rather than the urgent care, which turned out to be a really good idea. She lanced it and gave me some antibiotics, and sent me home with intructions to go to the ER if it wasn't better by the next day. Next day, duly not better, I went to the ER in Brooklyn.

I didn't realize it was MRSA (which is getting extremely common, including so-called "community-acquired" rather than "hospital acquired" MRSA.) The actual boil on my jawline didn't look so bad, but there was a ton of infection and drainage and basically the whole left side of my face was inflamed. The ER took it really seriously, and they actually called in a facial plastic surgeon to open up the wound and make sure it was all cleared out. They also almost admitted me overnight to keep an eye on the infection - only living 10 blocks away and swearing up and down to go to the doctor again the next morning stopped me from staying overnight.

MRSA is no joke as it's very difficult to treat (resistant to various antibiotics), and even 'regular' staph is pretty serious. It's very adaptable, so the challenge is to kill it off without just killing of the antibiotic-susceptible organisms.

They gave me a bunch of intense antibiotics for the systemic infection, including IV antibiotics in the hospital (vancomyocin), some kind of antibiotic cream to put in my nostrils (apparently staph loves to hide in the nostrils and you can re-trigger a skin infection by say, wiping your nose and then not washing your hands right after), and had me buy the antimicrobial soap (hexabenadine?) that they use to disinfect in hospitals to wash with. It was about 2 weeks of a pretty intense cleansing/sanitation regime, but it worked to clear the staph. Also the boyfriend and I broke up, so I stopped getting re-infected.

So, here's what I would do if I was in your shoes:

- go to a better doctor. Maybe a dermatologist would be appropriate? I ended up seeing an infectious-disease specialist for a consultation, so that might be another option.
- tell them you have staph and you're concerned that is might be MRSA. They should take it seriously, if not, get a different doctor.
- get your staph wounds cultured so you know what kind it is. That will tell you if its a resistant strain of staph, and what antibiotics will be effective in treating it. This is absolutely the case where you DO want antibiotics.
- have them swab your nose to see if staph is hiding up there
- religiously take the antibiotics, follow the wound care instructions, and wash with an antimicrobial soap to both heal the wound and kill the staph in your system
- get plenty of sleep and eat well so that your immune system can be at its best.

Anecdotally, tea tree oil helped diminish my earlier boils, but did noting whatsoever for the systemic infection, which really did need a full-scale antibiotic assault to kill.

Good luck!
posted by foodmapper at 6:58 AM on August 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

Yeah, the systemic infection needs a systemic treatment (including the neosporin-up-the-nose protocol), or nothing else you do will help. Get tested.

And then your entire life becomes laundry for a while. No re-using towels, no re-wearing clothes. You might be better off buying a couple of sleep sacks or making some from flat sheets so that you've got one or more sheets protecting your mattress and then the sack you sleep in once and then wash.

Wash your body with antibacterial soap - I just used grocery-store brands (or Bath and Body Works) but hospital soap is an option. Wash your hands constantly. Do not touch an open sore unless you are in the shower and have soap on your hands. (This is prevention in both directions - keeping both your hands and your wounds as clean as possible.)

Do not use battery-powered face scrubbers in the presence of boils. Use washcloths once, and bleach them when you wash them. Put your makeup on with Q-tips and do not double-dip (honestly, I'd say stop using makeup and powder. Do your eyes with Q-tips, focus on keeping your face clean and moisturized and sunscreened but not made up).

And, finally, yeah, a lot of people find they can clear up an outbreak by cutting dairy, wheat, or both. In any case, eat as clean as you can, and drink your water. Bloodwork to make sure you're not suffering a vitamin D or iron deficiency might also be educational.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:13 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I kept getting yucky infected follicles - for years! - and Dr. Google (well, actually Dr. Google sent me to a page where a woman talked about what her real doctor recommended) suggested that I switch from my french-milled yuppie co-op soap to Dial, and that seems to have cleared it up. My situation was probably not as serious as yours, but I was really surprised by how well it worked. Also, a long-standing weird itchy patch went away - doctors had been baffled and I'd given up fixing it, but it seems to have been cured by the soap.I add that all my life I have always showered daily and scrubbed thoroughly with regular soap, so it wasn't simply that I was getting gross and filthy before.
posted by Frowner at 7:18 AM on August 24, 2013

I remember reading that oregano oil can help against MRSA. I'm skeptical of any too-good-to-be-true herbal remedies-- and so should anyone really, but for me, it appeared to help against my Giardia and digestive issues. It's supposed to be a natural anti-bacterial, ant anti-inflammatory, among other things.

I don't have staph, never have, but I get low immunity a lot, generally due to chronic insommnia. I take it in capsule form for that, but I'm not sure it makes a difference. Anecdotally it does appear to help when I have low immunity; I rarely get colds now. However, I find that the best thing that helps my immune system is a Vitamin D and I also take a Licorice supplement when I'm sick. Not sure if it'll work on any kind of staph infection, but, it does help me. It can't hurt any, really. (Although licorice can increase blood pressure, so be careful). And obviously sleeping well helps immunity too.

As others said, you may have MRSA. My friend had MRSA and he had to do the whole bathing in bleach, nosporin up the nose, antimicrobial eye baths -- the whole nine yards-- basically anywhere moist to get rid of it. And he thought he'd licked it, but got reinfected a couple years later. I'd look into getting admitted if you get another infection, and bombard it with antibiotics like foodmapper suggested, plus the bleach as bq suggests, plus cleaning your entire place, getting rid of anything (sheets, brushes, towels) that may be re-infecting you. I'd use the supplements I mention as an 'in addition to' all that, and not an 'instead of'. I mention them just because they may be the thing that just tips it all over to non-infection.

Good luck.
posted by Dimes at 8:52 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

My wife had two staph infections in a short period of time, and we went "full germophobe" for a while. She used Hibiclens for some things and an ordinary antimicrobial body wash (Dial?) for everything else. We sprayed Lysol liberally and repeatedly, used 409 on all counters and things several times, cleaned our hands and anything we touched with Wet Ones wipes, etc., etc. Seriously, imagine you're Howard Hughes for a while. We have no regrets--that was like 4-5 years ago with no problems since.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:57 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Washing your makeup brushes isn't going to help if there's bacteria on the makeup itself. I would toss all current makeup and brushes (or at least the makeup, and clean the brushes with alcohol as suggested above), and buy all new stuff. Use q-tips and get a big pack of sponges for foundation and don't double-dip. Plus, yay fun new makeup.

I also love Hibiclens for wound washing, so maybe use that for washing your hands.
posted by bedhead at 3:15 PM on August 24, 2013

My wife had two staph infections in a short period of time, and we went "full germophobe" for a while. She used Hibiclens for some things and an ordinary antimicrobial body wash (Dial?) for everything else. We sprayed Lysol liberally and repeatedly, used 409 on all counters and things several times, cleaned our hands and anything we touched with Wet Ones wipes, etc., etc. Seriously, imagine you're Howard Hughes for a while. We have no regrets--that was like 4-5 years ago with no problems since.

This is also what I'd do.


- read up on sanitation protocols for things like operating rooms, commercial food operations, etc. Things like double dipping and cross-contamination have been beaten into my head my whole life, so I find those things fairly natural. But a lot of people don't. I would definitely view the makeup with suspicion.

- learn to not touch your face.

- another vector: pillows. I would toss all the pillows, and then bleach the living hell out of my pillowcases. I would double or triple up on pillowcases, and change the outer one daily.

- and yes, as horrible as it sounds, new sheets and towels every day. Washed in HOT water with bleach.

- also, check the temperature of the hot water. Make sure it is hot enough.

- and/or shower and disinfect before going to bed religiously.

- doctor approved nasal irrigation.

- every surface that you touch on a daily basis needs to be disinfected on a daily basis. I like the Lysol wipes.

- make sure laundry is fully dried. Drying is an important step in the disinfection process.

- other vectors to consider: remote controls, the car, computer keyboards, cellphones, refrigerator handle, door handles, faucet handles, hats, scarves, coats, jewelry.

- kitchen utensils. Wash sponges and rags after every use.
posted by gjc at 2:41 AM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

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