A staph infection is an illness from a common bacteria. It may be a simple skin infection. Or, it may lead to an infection in the bloodstream or major organs. Staph infections may be:
- MSSA—often treatable with common antibiotics
- MRSA—may not be treatable with common antibiotics
The bacteria that cause staph infections can often be found on the skin. An infection happens when the bacteria enter the body through a break in the skin. The bacteria may only affect local skin tissue or can enter the bloodstream. Once in the blood, it can pass to other areas of the body. Examples include the heart, bones, or joints.
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An open wound in the skin increases the risk of a staph infection. This includes minor cuts, punctures, scrapes or surgical wounds.
Staph infections are more common in infants and older people. Men who have sex with men also have a higher risk. Other things that can raise the risk are:
- A weak immune system
- Recovery from serious illness or surgery
- IV drug use
- Crowded living conditions
Symptoms depend on the location of the infection. Other symptoms develop if the infection has spread.
An infection in the skin may create an area with:
- Feeling warm to touch
Other symptoms may be fever and drainage or crusting at the site.
Infections that have spread to other parts of the body may cause:
- Fever and chills
- General ill feeling
- Nausea and vomiting
- Swollen joints
- Problems breathing
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. The infected area will be examined. The doctor may suspect a staph infection based on the exam. A sample of the affected area may also be taken and sent to a lab. The lab will confirm the bacteria causing the problem.
Treatment will be based on the specific infection. and your overall health. One or more methods may be needed, such as:
- Incision and drainage of the infected area
- Antibiotics—pills, cream applied to skin, or IV for severe illnesses. Taking all the antibiotics will help to prevent the infection from coming back.
Drainage from the wound is very contagious. It can spread the infection to others.
To help reduce the risk of a staph infection:
- Wash hands often. Use soap and water or hand sanitizers.
- Make sure health care staff wash their hands.
- Do not share personal items. Examples are towels, sports gear, or razors.
- Keep cuts and wounds clean and covered until healed.
- Wash clothing and bed sheets regularly. Wash athletic clothes after each wear. Wash towels after each use.
- Do not touch other people’s wounds or bandages.
- Shower right after sports activities. Use soap and water.
- Avoid group sports—if you have an open wound that appears infected.
- Chalmers SJ, Wylam ME. Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Infection and Treatment Options. Methods Mol Biol. 2020;2069:229-251.
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/methicillin-resistant-staphylococcus-aureus-mrsa.
- MRSA. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/mrsa.html.
- Staphylococcus aureus. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/staphylococcus-aureus.
- Staphylococcus aureus. Minnesota Department of Health website. Available at: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/staph/index.html.
- David L. Horn, MD, FACP
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