If you suffer from recurrent skin infections, ask your doctor to culture your nose for bacteria. Most recurrent skin infections are caused by a germ called staph aureus and it usually can be eradicated with an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment. It often does not clear with conventional oral antibiotics.

Your doctor usually treats skin infections with antibiotic pills and injections, which readily clear germs from the skin, but oral and injected antibiotics rarely can clear staph aureus from your nose. Then, every time you sneeze or touch your nose, the spray deposits staph aureus on your hands where it goes back to your skin to start another infection. The vast majority of the time, your doctor can rid the germ from your nose and cure you by telling you to get an inexpensive antibiotic ointment such as bacitracin, bought over the counter without a prescription, and to apply a small amount inside your nostrils for several weeks. Some doctors will prescribe the far more expensive prescription ointment, mupiricin, because of the publicity that has been generated for its use, but I have found that the non-prescription ointments are just as effective. (1,2,3).

When surgeons have staph aureus in their noses, they are usually not allowed to operate because the germ can get into surgical wounds. Staph aureus is one of the most common causes of delayed wound healing (4). It is also the most common cause of sore nipples in breast-feeding mothers (5). In one study, people with recurrent staph aureus infections were told to apply an antibiotic ointment into their noses for five days each month for one year (6). They finally got rid of the staph from their noses and stopped getting infections on their skin.

By Gabe Mirkin, M.D., for CBS Radio News
Checked 11/13/15

1) Archives of Internal Medicine July 11, 1994.

2) C Brunbuisson, A Rauss, P Legrand, H Mentec, M Ossart, F Eb, JP Sollet, F Leturdu, A Boillot, Y Michelbriand, JL Ricome, A Boisivon. Mupirocin Treatment of S Aureus Nasal Carriage and Prevention of Infection in Intensive Care Units: A Multicenter Controlled Study. Medecine et Maladies Infectieuses 24: 12 (DEC 1994):1229-1239.

3) C Watanakunakorn, C Axelson, B Bota, C Stahl. Mupirocin ointment with and without chlorhexidine baths in the eradication of Staphylococcus aureus nasal carriage in nursing home residents. American Journal of Infection Control 23: 5 (OCT 1995):306-309.

4) RP Wenzel, TM Perl. The significance of nasal carriage of Staphylococcus aureus and the incidence of postoperative wound infection. Journal of Hospital Infection 31: 1 (SEP 1995):13-24.

5) VH Livingstone, CE Willis, J Berkowitz. Staphylococcus aureus and sore nipples. Canadian Family Physician 42 (APR 1996):654-659.

6) R Raz, D Miron, R Colodner, Z Staler, Z Samara, Y Keness. A 1-year trial of nasal mupirocin in the prevention of recurrent staphylococcal nasal colonization and skin infection. Archives of Internal Medicine 156: 10 (MAY 27 1996):1109-1112.

7) MA Smith, JJ Mathewson, IA Ulert, EG Scerpella, CD Ericsson. Contaminated stethoscopes revisited. Archives of Internal Medicine 156: 1 (JAN 8 1996):82-84.