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Study: Antibiotic Ointments May Aid Spread of MRSA

Researchers Suggest That Antibiotic Ointments May Be a Factor in Spread of Strain Called USA300

More Study Needed continued...

But he says it makes sense to use caution with any kind of antibiotics.

"You know, if you use antibiotics routinely, you're going to end up with resistance," Price tells WebMD. "We've really got to be careful."

Other experts agree.

"I think this is an interesting paper. It brings up an important issue," says David T. Bearden, PharmD, a clinical associate professor and chair of the department of pharmacy practice at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.

"We don't really know very much about topical products, how to use them, when to use them, what resistance means or what this does to further change [bacterial] resistance patterns," says Bearden, who was not involved in the research.

Study Weaknesses

Other experts said that the study had weaknesses that could make its findings less reliable.

Suzanne F. Bradley, MD, professor of internal medicine and an infectious disease specialist at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, says one concern is that nine of the USA300 samples came from a single outbreak. That makes it more likely, she says, that they are genetically identical and were simply passed around in the community.

Additionally, she says, the researchers give no details about the patients who had these strains, so it's impossible to know if they personally used antibiotic ointments or came from countries where they are more common.

Bradley also says the researchers offered little evidence to prove their assertion that antibiotic ointment is widely used in the U.S. but not in other countries.

Advice to Consumers

Until more is known, it's tough to know what to do about antibiotic ointment, which is a staple in many first-aid kits.

If antibiotic resistance is a concern, petroleum jelly, like Vaseline, might work just as well, says Patrick S. Romano, MD, professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of California at Davis.

"The primary effect of the ointment is probably to act as a physical barrier to bacterial entry and as a moisturizer," Romano says in an email. Cuts and scrapes that are kept moist heal faster, he says.

"Petroleum jelly would probably work just as well for this purpose," he says, without causing resistance.

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