As you know, my Borzoi, Kyrie, has been battling an infection with multi-drug resistant staph (MRSI) for the last few months. A lot of you have been asking about her in comments and email, and I promised to post an update.
Gina called me last night. "I thought you were going to post about Kyrie."
I assured her I was working on the post at that very moment. And I was. In fact, I worked on it for around four hours yesterday, and I've been working on it for at least an hour this morning. Trust me, five hours on a single blog post? If all my work took me that kind of time, I'd be hard-pressed to pay my utility bill, forget about my mortgage and the dogs' grass-fed beef.
The problem isn't that she's worse. The problem isn't that I don't know what to do. The problem is that she's, at least at the moment, completely free of all symptoms, and has been for two weeks now. None of her previous antibiotic treatments accomplished that -- the first one didn't work at all, and while both the second and the third drugs did, the infection returned within a couple of days after the course of antibiotics was finished.
So now you're wondering, er, Christie? What's the problem?
What I used was medical grade honey. I used it because her infection started to come back just as we went into the weekend, and I wanted to wait until Monday so I could take her to her specialist instead of the local vet or the ER. But in the past, this thing had spread so rapidly, and been so painful, that I wasn't willing to do nothing for two days.
I had done a lot of research on treatments of MRSI and MRSA, and knew that medical grade honey had been used successfully on resistant infections in clinical and hospital settings. It's a proven therapy, albeit not widely used or even accepted, particularly in the United States. I also knew that honey and sugar are anti-bacterial and have been used to promote wound healing for centuries. I figured it was pretty risk-free and might keep the infection in check, and give Kyrie some relief, until I could get to the specialist after the weekend.
But it did more than that. Within three hours, the symptoms (redness, oozing) had reduced by 50 percent, and Kyrie seemed comfortable instead of miserable and hyper-aware of the wound. In fact, she was sprawled out on her back, snoring, instead of crouched on her sternum with her eyes scrunched up.
I changed the bandage. Around ten hours later, I took it off, and the wound was 50 percent smaller, no longer at all red, and dry. By the next morning, there was nothing but some dry skin (I thought at first it was a crust of dried honey, but it wasn't).
I continued the treatment for the rest of the weekend, and then I simply stopped. There was nothing to treat. I gave her a bath to get the remains of the honey off, dried her with a clean towel, and then let her be. The infection hasn't returned, her hair is growing back, and for the first time since this all began, she's normal.
I'm going to follow up with a culture, and finally get her thyroid checked, but for now, she's doing great.
The reason I hesitated to share this story is that I am allergic to magic bullets. I believe that most illness is related more to "big picture" things like diet, genetics, lifestyle, and the environment, and if we overly-focus on interventions like drugs, supplements, or herbs that attack a single symptom, we're pretty much just cutting the wire to the "check engine" light and thinking we fixed the car.
I also, after more than 22 years of being involved in holistic animal care, am beyond tired of the hype around the latest herbal or nutritional "cure-all." I've seen a thousand of them come and go -- does anyone even remember "Calorad"? "SBGA"? There was a time when these were as joyfully hyped as colloidal silver is today. There's always something.
There's usually some value to these therapies (not always); that's not the point. The point is that they're not the panaceas that their supporters claim them to be, and they often work (if they work) in the same way that the evil drugs they're meant to supplant do. They don't represent a genuine change of paradigm about disease and health. They're just a "natural" alternative to pharmaceutical drugs, usually without even the minimal testing for safety and efficacy that drugs have.
Worse, their advocates often promote them as being able to treat and cure just about everything under the sun (usually including HIV and cancer), being cheaper than drugs, don't require you to get medical care from a professional to use, and of course, since they're "natural," being safe. And there's often a nice coating of conspiracy theory over the whole thing -- you know, the one where science and the government won't allow the truth about this product to get out, because it can't be patented and thus, Big Pharma can't make money off it.
Reality checks: Nothing treats everything under the sun. Treating serious conditions without a diagnosis is irresponsible whether you're doing it with drugs or herbs. It's quite true that the pharmaceutical industry's pricing is mostly indefensible, but "cheaper" doesn't mean "better," either. And "natural" isn't always better or safe. Aspirin is natural, and it eats holes in your stomach.
As to the conspiracy theories, those are the things that make my head explode. When something unpatentable shows genuine promise against a common problem, those smart (and by "smart" of course I mean "greedy") folks in Big Pharma find a way to monetize it, typically by creating a patentable delivery system or formulation. And if they don't, the equally smart (and greedy) folks in Big Supplements will find a lucrative angle for their product, too. (Actually, they're often the exact same people.)
And that's the long story of why I hesitated to make this post, because I still think that people need to go to the veterinarian to get things like this diagnosed, and because I believe we need to be doing cultures on infections both to help diagnose and treat our animals and to continue to monitor the emergence of resistant pathogens in our communities, and I don't want everyone whose pet has a skin problem to go right for the medical grade honey and skip all the rest of those steps.
But I also believe in the free flow of honest information, and I can't deny that the medical grade honey seems to have done more for this infection than anything else we tried, for a fraction of the cost.
Not that it was cheap; it wasn't. It cost over $100. However, that is less than a fifth of what I spent on antibiotics that didn't work, and only around 7 percent of her total vet bills. And I still have some left over, so the savings were actually greater than that, assuming I use the remaining product in the future.
While there is science to support the use of honey on resistant skin infections, and the product I used is actually FDA approved (you all know how important that is to me), the reason this worked might be not so much the honey as the delivery system. One of the things I found in my research is that topical treatments can be more effective against resistant skin infections than systemic antibiotics. It may be that had we used a topical therapy in addition to, or instead of, the oral antibiotics from the beginning, we'd have gotten the same result even with conventional drugs. I don't know.
What we used is this. She's doing great, and while her coat is still very short over the wound area, it's covering the skin completely. I check daily and the underlying skin seems perfectly healthy and intact. And I promise to keep everyone updated, and report on what her culture and thyroid tests show.