Definition

A staph infection is an infection caused by common bacteria. It may cause a simple skin infection or develop into an infection in the bloodstream or major organs.

Causes

The bacteria that cause staph infections are often present on the skin without causing problems. An infection develops when there is a break in the skin and the bacteria enters the body. The bacteria may only affect local skin tissue or can enter the bloodstream and pass to other areas of the body such as the heart, bones, or joints.

Staph Bacteria Can Enter the Body Through Breaks in the Skin
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Risk Factors

An open wound in your skin increases your risk of infection. This includes minor cuts, punctures, or scrapes or larger injuries like surgical wounds.

Other factors that can increase your chance of general infection include:

  • Health condition that causes a weakened immune system
  • Medication that suppresses the immune system
  • Recovering from serious illness or surgery

Symptoms

Symptoms will depend on the location of the infection and if the infection has spread.

Initial skin infection can cause an area of skin that is:

  • Red
  • Swollen
  • Painful
  • Warm to touch

You may also have a fever and drainage/pus or crusting at the site.

Infections that have spread to other areas of the body may cause:

  • Fever and chills
  • General ill feeling
  • Nausea vomiting
  • Achiness
  • Headache
  • Swollen joints
  • Difficulty breathing

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. The infected area will be examined. Your 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 be able to confirm the specific type of bacteria causing the problem.

Treatment

Treatment will be based on the specific infection and your overall health. Not all infections will require treatment. Those that do may require one or more of the following:

  • Incision and drainage of the infected area.
  • Antibiotic treatment—oral or topical. Taking the entire antibiotic treatment is important to prevent recurrence.

Some staph bacteria, called MRSA, can be resistant to more common antibiotics. An antibiotic will be chosen based on the specific type of bacteria causing the infection.

Keep in mind that drainage from an infected wound is very contagious. Carefully dispose of bandages that have come in contact with your wound. Wash your hand before and after touching the area.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of a staph infection:

  • Wash your hands often. Soap and water is sufficient, but hand sanitizers can be used if water is not available.
  • You may sometimes have staph living on your skin and in your nose. Ask your doctor if treating this will help prevent infections.
  • If you are receiving medical care, make sure medical personnel wash their hands before delivering care.
  • Do not share personal items such as towels, athletic equipment, or razors.
  • Keep cuts and wounds clean and covered until healed.
  • Launder clothing and bed sheets on a regular basis. Wash gym and athletic clothes after each wear. Wash towels after each use.
  • Avoid contact with other people’s wounds and materials contaminated by wounds.
  • Shower right after sports activities. Use soap and water.
  • Avoid playing in athletic games if you have an open wound that appears infected.

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