Doctors test tea tree oil body wash for MRSA

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study is investigating whether a tea tree oil body wash can prevent the drug-resistant super bug MRSA in critically ill hospitalized adults.

Tea tree oil body wash “may be a simple intervention to prevent MRSA,” Dr. Bronagh Blackwood from Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, told Reuters Health.

MRSA -- short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus - is a growing problem. MRSA is untreatable with most antibiotics and can cause potentially deadly complications like pneumonia, bloodstream infections and surgical wound infections.

Hospitals and nursing homes remain the bug’s prime breeding ground, with patients with weakened immune systems being most vulnerable. Critically ill patients are at particular high risk, in part because of the number of invasive procedures that they require in the intensive care unit (ICU).

In some prior studies, washing with tea tree oil has been shown to be effective in removing MRSA on the skin.

Therefore, Blackwood and colleagues are evaluating the effect of daily washing with a 5 percent tea tree oil preparation on new MRSA infections among ICU patients. The 5 percent tea tree oil wash is being compared with a standard body wash (Johnson’s Baby Softwash).

“We started this trial in November 2007,” Blackwood said. “We aim to complete it in November 2010.”

If tea tree oil body wash proves effective against MRSA, widespread implementation of such a simple prevention tool has the potential to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs, the researchers say.

SOURCE: BMC Infectious Diseases 2008.