Tea Tree and MRSA

Margaret Chan is the Director General of the World Health Organisation. She anticipates ‘the end of modern medicine’ because the WHO has finally admitted that antibiotics had been so over-used that they’re now almost completely useless against ‘super strains’ of bacterial infection.

The result of this, she warns, could be that routine operations become impossible to carry out and minor cuts and grazes become potentially life-threatening. Hospitals and treatment centres are becoming dangerous centres of infection and ‘medical treatment’ the third biggest killer in the Western World, after cancer and heart disease, is set to up its mortality rate even more.

Tea Tree TreesFrom Wikipedia: The indigenous Bundjalung people of eastern Australia first used tea trees as a traditional medicine by inhaling the oils from the crushed leaves to treat coughs and colds. They also sprinkle leaves on wounds, after which a poultice is applied. In addition, tea tree leaves are soaked to make an infusion to treat sore throats or skin ailments. Historically, the leaves were used as a substitute for tea, which is how tea tree oil got its name. The part used medicinally is the oil from the leaves.

Use of the oil itself, as opposed to the unextracted plant material, did not become common practice until researcher Arthur Penfold published the first reports of its antimicrobial activity in a series of papers in the 1920s and 1930s. In evaluating the antimicrobial activity of M. alternifolia, tea tree oil was rated as 11 times more active than phenol.

Tea Tree LeavesThe commercial tea tree oil industry was born after the medicinal properties of the oil were first reported by Penfold in the 1920s. Production ebbed after World War II, as demand for the oil declined, presumably due to the development of effective antibiotics and the waning image of natural products.

More recently in vitro studies in Australia and the UK have found that tea tree oil is effective against MRSA at concentrations as low as 0.25%. To eradiate MRSA on the skin, creams, ointments and body washes with at least 5% tea tree oil have been successfully used in hospital trials.

The Hospital Infection Society report that the combination of a 4% tea tree oil nasal ointment and 5% tea tree oil body wash was compared with a standard 2% mupirocin nasal ointment and triclosan body wash for the eradication of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus carriage (MRSA). The tea tree oil combination appeared to perform better than the standard combination, although the difference was not statistically significant due to the small number of patients.

Tea tree oil contains consituents called terpenoids, which have been found to have antiseptic and antifungal activity. The compound terpinen-4-ol is the most abundant and is thought to be responsible for most of tea tree oil’s antimicrobial activity.

The most promising new function of tea tree oil is to counter methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), also called the hospital super bug. In United States and European hospitals, MRSA grew from under 3% in the 1980s to 40% in the late 1990s. This super bug attacks people who have wounds, such as post-operative infections, and a depressed immune system. MRSA resists conventional antibiotics, except Vancomycin. A Thursday Plantation in vitro study, at East London University, comparing Vancomycin and tea tree oil, shows the latter as a powerful alternative. This study corroborated the University of Western Australia study by Thomas Riley and Christine Carson. Because the spread of MRSA occurs mainly by hands, one London hospital uses tea tree oil soap for staff and patient hygiene.

However there do seem to be some safety concerns linked to the widespread use of tea tree. One study shows that tea tree oil may alter hormone levels. There have been three case reports of topical tea tree oil products causing unexplained breast enlargement in boys. People with hormone-sensitive cancers or pregnant or nursing women should avoid tea tree oil.

Occasionally, people may have allergic reactions to tea tree oil, ranging from mild contact dermatitis to severe blisters and rashes. Undiluted tea tree oil may cause skin irritation, redness, blistering, and itching.

Tea tree oil should not be taken internally, even in small quantities. It can cause impaired immune function, diarrhoea, and potentially fatal central nervous system depression (excessive drowsiness, sleepiness, confusion, coma). The tea tree oil in commercial toothpastes and mouthwashes is generally considered to be acceptable because it is not swallowed.





Tea tree oil as an alternative topical decolonization agent for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus

M. Caelli*, J. Porteous*, C. F. Carson†, R. Heller* and T.V. Riley†

*Department of Clinical Epidemiology, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW 2308 and

†Department of Microbiology,The University of Western Australia, Nedlands,WA 6009, Australia

© 2000 The Hospital Infection Society

Journal of Hospital Infection (2000) 46: 236–237

doi:10.1053/jhin.2000.0830, available online at http://www.idealibrary.com on


simonthescribe writes and publishes articles, books and websites themed around living a sustainable life in tune with nature.

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