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Healthy Lifestyle Tips | Tea Tree Oil and Staph

Tea Tree Oil and Staph

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) preparations may be as effective as drug therapy for the treatment of certain staph (Staphylococcus aureus) skin infections, reports the Journal of Hospital Infection (2004;56:283–6). At this time in which increasing antibiotic use is giving rise to more resistant strains of bacteria, identifying treatments for infection that don’t depend on antibiotics is an important finding.

Staph is a bacterium commonly found on the skin and in the nose of healthy people. Though it mostly causes only minor infections, occasionally staph causes more serious diseases, such as pneumonia. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of infection that does not respond to methicillin (Staphcillin™), the type of antibiotic used to treat most staph infections. MRSA infections are usually mild and limited to the skin and nose, but they may also lead to life-threatening blood or bone infections that are very difficult to treat. Most MRSA is spread by direct physical contact with infected people. Hospitalized people known to have MRSA infections are isolated to help prevent spreading the infection to others.

Tea tree oil has been used historically to treat both bacterial and fungal skin infections. A natural antiseptic, tea tree oil has the ability to kill many bacterial strains, including MRSA. The new study compared the use of tea tree oil preparations with drug treatments for MRSA skin infections. Two hundred twenty-four people took part in the study. The participants were randomly assigned to receive either (1) standard medical therapy appropriate for treating the infection or (2) tea tree oil. For nasal infections, the treatment was either mupirocin 2% nasal ointment or tea tree oil 10% cream, applied to the affected nostrils three times per day. For wounds and leg ulcers, the treatment was a daily application of either silver sulfadiazine 1% cream or tea tree oil 10% cream. For widespread areas of infection, the treatment was a daily application of either chlorhexidine gluconate 4% soap or tea tree oil 5% body wash. All treatments were continued for five days. To assess the presence of MRSA, participants’ infected areas were swabbed before the study, and again on days 2 and 14 after treatment began.

The drug therapies successfully treated 49% of MRSA infections; tea tree oil cleared 41% of MRSA infections. The difference between these success rates was not statistically significant, which suggests that the tea tree oil was as effective as the drug therapy. Mupirocin ointment was significantly more effective than tea tree oil at treating nasal infections, but the tea tree oil preparations worked better on other skin sites and ulcers than the drug treatments. The tea tree oil treatments were well tolerated, with no adverse effects reported.

Tea tree oil is a viable alternative to antibiotic treatment for MRSA skin infections. This finding is especially important as bacterial resistance continues to increase and infections become harder to treat. As of this writing, there have been no reports of MRSA resistance to tree tea oil.

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.

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