MRSA bacteria that can infect the scalp
MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is a strain of staph bacteria that is resistant to most commonly prescribed antibiotics. While most MRSA infections used to occur from being in a hospital or nursing home environment, community acquired MRSA has become extremely common nationwide. MRSA most often infects the skin and presents as lesions such as boils, pustules, nodules, abscesses and ulcers, either as a singular lesion or in groups of lesions. One often overlooked area susceptible to MRSA infection is the scalp. Staph bacteria can easily invade the scalp after trauma from a head injury, irritation from scratching or scalp burns from chemical hair products. Scalp MRSA can be difficult to diagnose because hair can hide the lesions and because scalp MRSA symptoms can be mistaken for other scalp conditions such as sebaceous cysts and psoriasis. When scalp MRSA is suspected, look for the following symptoms and call your doctor right away. Early treatment of MRSA is crucial to avoid serious and sometimes life threatening complications such as cellulitis, septicemia and MRSA pneumonia.
1. Pay attention to any unusual itching, burning or tenderness of the scalp. MRSA infections on the scalp often start as minor irritation that can easily be confused with dandruff, lice and other common conditions associated with scalp inflammation.
2. Check the scalp for lumps or nodules that are red and tender to the touch. Scalp nodules associated with MRSA can appear as single nodules or groups of multiple nodules. MRSA nodules are usually inflamed and cause minor to severe pain and discomfort. They often rupture and ooze puss and can sometimes even bleed. When the nodules rupture, they may become covered with thick crusty scabs that itch. Some cases of scalp MRSA produce small pustules instead of large oozing nodules. MRSA pustules look similar to pimples and are surrounded by a red area of inflamed skin. These pustules are often misdiagnosed as simple foliculitis. But when routine antibiotics fail to cure the pustules, MRSA infection should be suspected.
3. Watch for other signs of infection. While many cases of scalp MRSA produce no symptoms other than skin lesions, some people experience staph infection symptoms throughout the whole body. Some MRSA symptoms to look for include: fever, loss of appetite, swollen lymph nodes, headache and fatigue.
4. Seek medical attention immediately if infection with MRSA is suspected. It’s important that MRSA be treated with the right antibiotics (usually given orally, topically and/or through an IV). If left untreated, scalp MRSA can lead to dangerous infections in other organs of the body like the lungs, heart, spine, kidneys and bladder.
5. While being treated for scalp MRSA by your doctor, take precautions to prevent the spread of staph infection to others. Keep MRSA lesions covered with sterile bandages. In the case of MRSA on the scalp, you can cover your head with scarves or cotton hats that are cleaned and disinfected daily. Shampoo everyday with a wound cleanser such as Hibiclens. You can also treat scalp sores with pure tea tree oil 2-3 times per day to speed recovery. Tea tree oil has been proven to kill MRSA bacteria very effectively in several studies. If scalp sores are particularly painful and sensitive, dilute tea tree oil with water prior to application. Practice good hygiene and wash your hands with soap and warm water several times throughout the day, especially after touching MRSA infected scalp sores.
To prevent reinfection with MRSA on the scalp, discard all combs, brushes and hair accessories that were used while infected. Wash bed linens and blankets in hot water with bleach. Wash your hair regularly and keep any scalp conditions such as dandruff and eczema under control. Having a preexisting scalp condition increases your odds of becoming infected with scalp MRSA in the future.