A staph (staphylococcus aureus) infection is caused by common bacteria, which is often found in the nose or on skin. The staph bacteria, for healthy people, does not usually cause an infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that the staph bacteria is one of the leading causes of skin infections in the U.S., and do not often need antibiotics. However, when a person's immune system is weak or there is an open wound, the bacteria can cause a serious infection which can be problematic. Treatment for these infections involves antibiotics.
At one time, penicillin could treat the common staph infection, but with the misuse of antibiotics (not finishing a prescription or taking them when not necessary), the staph bacteria are often resistant to penicillin, rendering it ineffective. While it is still effective for some staph infections, the Mayo Clinic reports that less than 10 percent of staph infections will respond to penicillin.
The next step up from penicillin is often methicillin. However, the staph bacteria are becoming immune to methicillin as well, and it is now being called "MRSA," or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. In the Mayo Clinic report, methicillin is effective in treating less than 50 percent of staph infections. MRSAs are serious, as there are fewer treatment options for staph that is resistant to methicillin.
Vancomycin is a much more potent, and toxic, antibiotic than penicillin or methicillin, and is commonly used in treating staph infections that are resistant to the other antibiotics. While it is still effective in most cases, there are some staph bacteria that have become resistant to vancomycin as well. To determine which antibiotic will be effective against the staph infection, the University of Michigan Health System explains that the bacteria will be tested in a lab against the different antibiotics available.
Mupirocin is an antibiotic ointment that is prescribed for staph bacteria that reside in the nasal cavity. A report in the October 8, 2008 issue of "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews" states that mupirocin significantly reduces nasal staph bacteria.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is extracted from the leaves of the tea tree (melaleuca alternifolia), which is native to Australia and has antibiotic properties. Tea tree oil is a natural substance that has been deemed effective against MRSA. A study published in the March 1995 issue of the "Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy" showed that all of the strains of staph bacteria tested were not resistant to tea tree oil. These included strains that were resistant to methicillin and mupirocin. While some medical establishments work with tea tree oil, it is available over the counter in most health food stores.