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Cautionary notes on the Staphylococcus aureus infection and its “miraculous” cure.

Photo Credit: CNN 4 mins read

A recent Facebook video features a man who introduces himself as ‘John’ trying to teach how to stay away from or treat infections with Staphylococcus aureus. John is dressed in a white coat resembling that worn by doctors and health workers in the hospital, with a green stethoscope hanging on his neck. He does not introduce himself as a doctor, though; but this is perhaps to reinforce the impression that he is one. Here are the ensuing claims from the video:

  • Staphylococcus aureus can be passed through towels, bedsheets, toothbrush, etc.
  • Stop eating sugar or foods rich in sugar while treating Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Alcohol worsens Staphylococcus aureus infection & also hinders treatment.
  • Staphylococcus aureus is usually resistant to treatment with regular antibiotics.
  • The right approach to treatment is herbal medicine, ‘miracle element’ with a 99.99% cure rate.

The chances are that this message does not sound all too strange, for those who have travelled through or visited a commercial motor park, public market or a motor mechanic’s workshop in Nigeria. For quite a long time now, this message has been around with herbal/alternative medicine vendors that claim that infections from Staphylococcus aureus are responsible for many feelings of unwellness ranging from headaches, body weakness to diabetes! So what is Staphylococcus aureus, and what damage does it cause when we get an infection from this ‘callous’ organism?

History of Staphylococcus Aureus’ with humans

Over thousands of years, this bacterium had developed a relationship with humans, becoming a part of the human microbiota, i.e. bacteria residing in humans. Studies have shown that in the human population, about 20% of people are persistent carriers of this organism; 60% of people are intermittent carriers, and another 20% are not carriers at all. What this all means is that S. aureus can live on our bodies without causing harm (and does so naturally by residing at the entrance part of our nostrils, for instance). Still, it can also become troublesome, causing infections, especially in the skin (cellulitis). These infections range from the well-known pimples, boils, skin, pus, to rarities in other body parts- abscesses. More life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, endocarditis and sepsis also result from the bacterium. In truth, following surgical operations, wounds are mainly infected because of it. Find out more about S. aureus here.

How does an S. aureus infection develop?

As a human microbiota, S. aureus is not naturally occurring in the human body; instead, it comes about through a process known as colonisation (similar to the same way humans would move & settle in a different place and make it their home). These novel colonisers, known as commensals on the human body can move from their initial area of colonisation to new ones, (trying to change address) while bringing about infection.

Because S. aureus can infect different parts of the body, the percentage of these S. aureus-causing infections is of utmost importance. For instance, S. aureus is responsible for about 6.3-13.9% of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in Nigeria. Further, complicated infections resulting from this bacterium can lead to death. However, there is currently no study that has identified deaths in men from such complications in Nigeria. Therefore, we guess the author only threw in “kills over 1400 Nigerian men every year” to attract attention and cover its inaccuracy.

Regarding sugars, hygiene and alcohol

On the whole, good hygiene is always good to prevent infections; this is especially true for this infection. Furthermore, lifestyle habits such as excessive intake of alcoholic beverages and healthy nutrition can keep us away from unnecessary food supplements. These are not specific to when one is treating an S. aureus infection.

Furthermore, while there have been studies that show that S. aureus utilises more glucose during its infection compared to other bacteria; however, this does not imply that one should stop ‘eating sugar’ if diagnosed with this disease. All food we eat ends up in our bodies as a form of sugar-glucose; this is what our organs and most living cells use to generate energy for their growth and metabolic activities. Refusal to eat food rich in carbohydrates (which is what this is suggesting), only deprives you of strength.

Is S. aureus Infection challenging to treat?

S. aureus is, in reality, a hardy bug, resisting extreme salt concentrations, acidity, extreme temperatures of 60°C for 60mins. It can also remain viable for about 90days in dry air and is resistant to some disinfectants and antibiotics. This resistance to antibiotics is the primary reason for our problem with S. aureus. For example, in 1928, scientists prescribed penicillin as a treatment for this bacterium which was infecting patients’ wounds after surgery. It, however, began resisting the antibiotic by 1961, so much so that it earned the designation, ‘superbug’. What this means, in essence, is that we now have a strain of S. aureus that is resistant to penicillin and many other antibiotics.

Further, it can survive on our bodies for a long time. When it turns into an infection, this type of S. aureus infection is challenging to treat and life-threatening if doctors don’t correctly diagnose and treat it. Additionally, studies show that almost a quarter to a half of S. aureus infections across Africa are from the strain resistant to regular self-medicated antibiotics. There are also reports that this strain of S. aureus is capable of infecting farm animals and pets, which further transmit it back to humans.

Yet to find the miracle to this element.

It turns out this video is not the only one trying to sell this herbal medicine. An article on dailypost.ng which claims the herbal drink’s ability to cure Gonorrhea, Syphilis, and other infections from S. aureus as “Antibiotics may no longer work…” The producers market the so-called miracle element as a ‘natural antibiotic supplement’ with labelling on the bottle that reads “immune booster.” Drug regulatory agencies around the world classify products as drugs for treating particular illnesses or as food supplements. This product belongs to the latter. Hence, using the term ‘antibiotic supplement,’ only complicates the matter.

Moreover, we did not also find this product listed on NAFDAC’s registered products portal as both the article and video have claimed. Furthermore, the video failed to mention the main ingredient in this mixture; neither did we find it on the product packaging. Hence, the jury is out on the pharmaceutical status and efficacy of the product being claimed as an antibiotic.

Conclusion

Staphylococcus aureus infection is in no way novel; people have known of it for a while. And, its impact can be felt more in people with low immunity; such as people with HIV/AIDS, infants and implant users, amongst others. Also, mounting evidence shows that treatment of this vector is becoming more elusive due to increasing resistance of this bug to antibiotics. Moreover, while irresponsible hygiene and self-medication can contribute to infection from this bacterium, other factors such as increased use of antibiotics in animal farming, the keeping of pets and Staphylococcus’s resistive ability to medication are of concern. Nonetheless, proper diagnosis, followed with responsible use of prescribed medication seems to be the right option.  No food supplement should substitute for a doctor’s prescription or advice, no matter how miraculous it may seem.

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