Staph infections are caused by staphylococcus bacteria, a form of germ usually found in healthy individuals on the skin or in the nose. These bacteria do not cause problems or result in relatively mild skin infections most of the time.
But if the bacteria penetrate deeper into your body, penetrating your bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs, or heart, staph infections can turn deadly. An increasing number of otherwise healthy individuals are developing life-threatening staph infections.
Treatment typically requires antibiotics and the affected area’s drainage. Some staph infections, however, do not react to traditional antibiotics any longer.
Infections with Staph can range from mild skin problems to endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the heart lining (endocardium).
Because of this, depending on the location and nature of the infection, signs, and symptoms of staph infections vary widely.
Skin infections caused by staph bacteria include:
- Boils: The boil, a pocket of pus that grows in a hair follicle or oil gland, is the most common staph infection form. The skin normally becomes red and swollen above the infected area. If a boil breaks open, the pus would likely be drained. Boils occur under the arms or around the groin or buttocks most frequently.
- Impetigo: The staph bacteria can cause this infectious, sometimes painful rash. Generally, Impetigo has large blisters that can ooze fluid and produce a honey-colored crust.
- Cellulitis: Cellulitis causes skin redness and swelling on your skin’s surface, an inflammation of the deeper skin layers. Sores or regions of oozing discharge may also grow.
- Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome: The staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome can result from toxins created as a result of a staph infection. This disorder involves a fever, a rash, and occasionally blisters, affecting mainly babies and children. The top layer of skin falls off when the blisters split, leaving a red, raw surface that seems like a burn.
One of the most common triggers of food poisoning is staph bacteria. Symptoms occur rapidly, typically within hours of a tainted food being consumed. Symptoms usually soon fade, too, often lasting just half a day.
Typically, a staph infection in food does not cause fever. Signs and symptoms that you can expect from staph infection of this sort include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Low blood pressure
Often known as bloodstream infection, when staph bacteria invade the bloodstream of a human, bacteremia occurs. Signs of bacteremia include fever and low blood pressure. The bacteria will travel to places deep within your body to generate infections that affect:
- Internal organs, such as the lungs, brain, or hearts
- Surgically implanted devices, such as cardiac pacemakers or artificial joints
- Bones and muscles
Toxic shock syndrome
This life-threatening disease results from certain strains of staph bacteria, creating toxins, and has been connected to some forms of tampons, skin wounds, and surgery.
Typically it unexpectedly develops with:
- Muscle aches
- Stomach pain
- A high fever
- Nausea and vomiting
- A rash on your soles and palm that looks like a sunburn
A staph infection also triggers septic arthritis. Bacteria frequently target knees, elbows, hips, and fingers or toes. Symptoms and signs can include:
- Severe pain in the affected joint
- Joint swelling
When to see a doctor
Go to the doctor if your child or you has:
- Pus-filled blisters
- An area of irritated, irritated, or painful skin
You can also want to consult your doctor if:
- If two or more of your family member pass Skin infections to each other
- if Two or more family members have skin infections at the same time
Many individuals bear staph bacteria and never develop infections with Staph. However, if you develop a staph infection, there is a strong likelihood that it is from bacteria that you have been carrying around for some time.
It is also possible to spread these bacteria from person to individual. Since staph bacteria are so immune, they can live long enough on items such as pillowcases or towels to pass to the next person who touches them.
Staph bacteria are able to survive:
- Extremes of temperature
- Stomach acid
A number of variables can increase the risk of contracting staph infections, from the state of your immune system to the types of sports you play.
Underlying health conditions
Some conditions or the drugs used to treat them will make you more vulnerable to infections with Staph. People who might be more likely to get a staph infection include people who have:
- An organ transplant
- Diabetes who use insulin
- Weakened immune systems — either from a disease such as HIV/AIDS or medications that suppress the immune system
- Cancer patients, especially those who are undergoing radiation or chemotherapy
- Skin damage from conditions such as insect bites, eczema, or minor trauma that opens the skin
- Kidney failure requiring dialysis
- Respiratory illness, such as emphysema or cystic fibrosis
Current or recent hospitalization
Staph bacteria remain present in hospitals, despite concerted efforts to eliminate them, where they target the most vulnerable, including individuals with:
- Surgical wounds
- Weakened immune systems
The staph bacteria will move through the medical tubing that links your internal organs to the outside world. Examples are:
- Feeding tubes
- Breathing tubes
- Dialysis tubing
- Urinary catheters
- Intravascular catheters
Via wounds, abrasions, and skin-to-skin contact, staph bacteria can spread easily. Infections with Staph can also spread by shared razors, towels, uniforms, or equipment in the locker room.
Unsanitary food preparation
Food handlers who do not wash their hands properly are able to pass Staph from their skin to the food they cook. Foods that are staph-contaminated look and taste normal.
If staph bacteria invade your bloodstream, you can develop a form of infection that affects your entire body. This infection, called sepsis, can result in septic shock, a life-threatening episode of extremely low blood pressure.
These common-sense precautions can help lower your risk of developing staph infections:
- Wash your hands. Your best protection against germs is careful hand-washing. Clean your hands briskly for a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and water. Then, with a disposable towel, dry them, and use another towel to turn the faucet off. You should use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if your hands are not noticeably dirty.
Wash your hands regularly, such as before, during, and after preparing food, with soap and water, after handling raw meat or poultry, before eating, after using the toilet, and after touching animal or animal waste.
- Keep wounds covered: Keep the cuts and abrasions clean and wrapped until they heal, with sterile, dry bandages. The pus from infected sores also contains staph bacteria, and it can help prevent the bacteria from spreading by keeping wounds closed.
- Reduce tampon risk: Toxic shock syndrome is caused by bacteria called Staph. For staph bacteria, tampons left inside for long periods may be a breeding ground. By changing the tampon regularly, at least every four to eight hours, you will reduce the risk of having toxic shock syndrome. Use the tampon with the lowest absorbency you can. Whenever practicable, try to alternate tampons with sanitary napkins.
- Keep personal items personal: Stop swapping towels, blankets, razors, clothes, and sports equipment with personal products. Infections with Staph can spread to objects, as well as from person to person.
- Wash clothing and bedding in hot water: On clothing and bedding that isn’t properly cleaned, staph bacteria will thrive. Wash them whenever possible in hot water to extract bacteria from clothes and sheets. On any bleach-safe products, use bleach. Drying is better than air-drying in the dryer, but the clothes dryer can tolerate staph bacteria.
- Take food safety precautions. Before handling food, wash your hands. Make sure that hot foods stay hot, above 140 F (60 C), and that cold foods stay at or below 40 F (4.4 C) if food is out for a while. As soon as possible, refrigerate the leftovers. With soap and water, wash the cutting boards and counters.
To diagnose a staph infection, your doctor will:
- Perform a physical exam: Your doctor will closely inspect any skin lesions you might have during the test.
- Collect a sample for testing: Most commonly, physicians diagnose staph infections by searching for symptoms of bacteria from a tissue sample or nasal secretions.
- Other tests: Your doctor may order an echocardiogram imaging test if you are diagnosed with a staph infection to check if the infection has damaged your heart. Depending on your symptoms and the results of the scan, your doctor can order other imaging tests.
Treatment of a staph infection may include:
- Antibiotics: Your doctor can perform tests to identify the staph bacteria behind your infection and help you choose the most effective antibiotic. Some cephalosporins, such as cefazolin; nafcillin or oxacillin; vancomycin; daptomycin (Cubicin); telavancin (Vibativ); or linezolid solids are widely prescribed antibiotics to treat staph infections (Zyvox). Vancomycin is increasingly needed to treat severe staph infections because other conventional antibiotics have become immune to too many strains of staph bacteria. But it needs to be given intravenously with vancomycin and some other antibiotics. If you are taking an oral antibiotic, make sure to take it as prescribed, and finish all your doctor’s prescribed medicine. Ask your doctor what signs and symptoms you can check for that might mean that your infection is getting worse.
- Wound drainage: Your doctor will likely make an incision into the sore if you have a skin infection to remove fluid that has been deposited there.
- Device removal: If a device or prosthetic is involved in your infection, prompt removal of the device is required. Removal could require surgery for certain devices.
Staph bacteria are very adaptable, and one or more antibiotics have become resistant to several varieties. Just about 5 percent of staph infections today can be treated with penicillin, for instance.
The development of antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria strains, also referred to as Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) methicillin-resistant strains, has led to the use of IV antibiotics with the potential for further side effects, such as vancomycin or daptomycin.
Preparing for your appointment?
While you can initially visit your family doctor, depending on which of your organ systems is affected by the infection, he or she may refer you to a specialist. You may be referred to a doctor specializing in the treatment of skin disorders (dermatologist), heart conditions (cardiologist), or infectious diseases.
What you can do?
You may want to write a list that includes:
- Descriptions of the symptoms in depth
- Information you’ve had about medical issues
- Information about your parents or siblings’ medical issues
- All the drugs and dietary supplements you are currently taking.
- Questions you want the doctor to ask you.
For a staph infection, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is the possible cause of my symptoms here?
- What are the kinds of tests I need?
- What’s the safest treatment for infection with Staph?
- Am I infected?
- How can I tell if it gets better or worse with my infection?
- Are there any limits on behaviors that I need to follow?
- Some health problems I have. How can I better handle these situations together?
- Do you have any brochures I can take home with me or any other printed materials? What web pages are you recommending?
What to expect from your doctor?
Your doctor will likely ask you a number of questions, such as:
- When did you note the symptoms first? Are you able to explain them to me?
- How severe do your symptoms look?
- Were you around someone who had a staph infection?
- If you have any medical devices that are implanted, such as an artificial joint or a pacemaker?
- Do you have any ongoing medical problems, like an impaired immune system?
- Were you in the hospital recently?
- Do you play sports with contacts?
What you can do in the meantime
Keep the area clean and protected before you see your doctor so that you don’t spread the bacteria if you think you have a staph infection on your skin. And, before you know whether you have Staph or not, don’t prepare food.
- Staph infections – Diagnosis and treatment: Mayo Clinic