My four-year-old son has transformed overnight from flaxen-haired charmer to disease vector. It’s not pretty. For those of you lucky ones who do not know (oh, I was in your happy ranks but yesterday!) impetigo is a bacterial skin infection, highly contagious and common in the preschool set, that generally presents as weepy, crusted sores around the mouth and nose.
The typical treatment of impetigo is antibiotic ointment, followed by a cycle of oral antibiotics if the ointment doesn’t work. This is where we run into trouble.
I don’t like antibiotics. Bio is life, right? Bio is the good guys! I’m PRO Bio, I’m pretty sure, not anti. Antibiotics kill your gut fauna and interfere with your vitality and get in the drinking water. And the overuse of antibiotics has led to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which leads to our second problem, which is that antibiotics don’t work very well in the treatment of impetigo anymore.
Let me be clear here: I am no impetigo expert (like I said, I first learned about it yesterday) and what I am sharing here is simply my experience with my son…more by way of catharsis than by way of medical advice. You have been warned. (If anyone is still reading…I imagine I lost most of you at “weepy, crusted sores”.)
So here is my son, contagious and miserable, and all of a sudden the behaviors he normally engages in for comfort aren’t accessible to him anymore. He can’t rub his eyes or hug his friends. He can’t have a playdate or go to the park. He’s in quarantine. This is very difficult for him to understand, because it feels like punishment and he’s done nothing wrong. He’s become undesirable by simple mischance. People flinch away from his kisses. This unsettles the very foundation of his world. And it tears at my heart, too. Of course I want to make everything better for him as soon as possible.
My first instinct was to put tea tree oil on his sores. That worked, in the sense that the rash immediately began to dry up , but it didn’t work in the sense that he screamed bloody murder and looked at me as though his most trusted friend had betrayed him. The next morning I washed the rash carefully with warm water and essential oil of lavender, which worked in the sense that he didn’t scream bloody murder, and didn’t work in the sense that the rash wasn’t drying up and disappearing.
Tea tree oil and Lavender oil were instinctive choices for me because both are antimicrobial and antiseptic. Sounds a bit hypocritical, eh what? Why is it okay to use an herbal antibiotic and not a pharmaceutical one? Well, for one thing, there has never been any documented microbial resistance (development of “superbugs” ) to lavender or tea tree the way that there has been to pharmaceutical antibiotics.
There is also the theory that pharmaceutical antibiotics (composed essentially of concentrated mold toxin) are so threatening to the body that the immune system immediately prioritizes fighting this new toxin, hence the disappearance of symptoms. Then, when the mold toxin has been dealt with, symptoms of the “cured” disease resume. So basically, antibiotics just camoflage the symptoms while driving the infection deeper. Ack!
Also, by killing off the lacto bacteria that colonize the gut, antibiotics tend to promote yeast overgrowth. Herbal antibiotics like tea tree oil and garlic don’t interfere with lacto bacteria, and they don’t cause yeast overgrowth. They work with the immune system because they are recognizable, even edible substances that do not trigger an immune reaction.
So tea tree was too strong, lavender not strong enough. I was already feeding the kid garlic by the bucketload (raw, on bread…it stung him too much to apply it topically), giving him toast spread with Manuka honey, and sneaking goldenseal tincture into his lemonade. I was treating with internal antibiotic herbs because the bacteria that causes impetigo externally, Streptococcus, can cause strep throat internally. I don’t want that, no ma’am.
But what to do about the rash? Finally this morning I began treating it with colloidal silver ointment into which I had snuck a single drop of tea tree oil, and so far this seems to be a perfect balance of strength and tolerability. If it were fall, I’d probably try walnut hulls.
The most interesting aspect of this experience for me hasn’t been the herbal experimentation. It’s been noticing the dynamic tension between my belief system and my deep sense of responsibility for my child. There is so much fear and external judgment and societal pressure where children are involved. It makes me so vulnerable to outside opinion; and this vulnerability harms my ability to parent wisely and intuitively. It’s so easy to parent out of fear, to put fear for my offspring above my concern for the earth, my sense of responsibility to the whole, my deepest and most cherished beliefs. And that’s hardly good parenting.
And I feel so vulnerable just seeing him sick. It is easy to forget how fragile we are, how delicately life works, until something comes along to damage it. And in the face of these tiny damages, a bacterial infection on a child, the extinction of some little-known insect, we see how little we know. It’s terrifying.
This brush with impetigo has also re-sensitized me to all of those quick categories we relegate others to. People respond to my son so differently now that he has an ugly rash. Their reactions register on his face, I can see it: he feels unlovable. It makes me wonder how often I allow my reactions of disgust or attraction or fear to turn into beliefs about a person’s essential value. I’m going to keep looking at this as I help my little boy heal.
I love him, and I want him to get better. But I also want to be pro-Bio across every aspect of life.