Staph Infection: Overview and More


A staph infection (staph infection) occurs when bacteria called staph enter the body, usually through cuts or sores on the skin. Staphylococcus aureus is the most common type of infection in humans, although there are more than 30 more. While Staphylococcus aureus generally lives in the nose or skin of some healthy people, without consequence, infections can cause abscesses, cellulitis, or other skin conditions and, less frequently, infect the bloodstream or other organs (such as heart, lungs, or bones). ) .

In most cases, antibiotics can successfully treat staph infections. However, some cases can be persistent and even life-threatening.

Get Medication Information / Gary Foerster

Symptoms of staph infection

The symptoms of a staph infection depend on the type of infection it is causing. Staphylococcus aureus is most commonly associated with skin infections such as abscesses , folliculitis, furuncle, carbuncle , impetigo , and cellulitis .

Symptoms such as swelling, warmth, redness, pain, or discomfort in or around the infected area are common. Sometimes there is a fever and pus can come out of the infected skin.

If staph bacteria enter the bloodstream, sepsis can develop, which is very serious and potentially fatal.

Other serious staph infections (symptoms that relate only to the affected tissue or organ) include:

Staph can also call:

When to seek immediate medical help

Although the symptoms of staph infection vary greatly (depending on the organ affected), these symptoms require urgent medical attention:

  • Severe headache, stiff neck, and fever.
  • Painful rash or rash associated with fever
  • Fast heart rate and / or respiratory rate
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath.
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea and / or signs of dehydration .
  • Swelling or pain around a device such as an IV, pacemaker , or joint replacement


The human body is inhabited by many different types of staph (this is called colonization). For example, Staphylococcus aureus colonizes the nose of about 30% of healthy people and the skin of about 20% of people .

In addition to living in humans, Staphylococcus aureus can live on objects such as doorknobs or sports equipment. A person can be colonized with Staphylococcus aureus simply by touching the skin of someone who is colonized or by touching or sharing an infected object (such as a towel or razor) .

However, colonization is not the same as infection. Staphylococcus aureus colonization does not cause any symptoms. On the other hand, when Staphylococcus aureus enters the body and causes an infection, symptoms occur. Most of the time, bacteria enter through skin lesions (for example, small cuts from shaving or trauma wounds).

Although anyone can develop a staph infection, there are factors that increase the risk of getting the disease .

Some of these risk factors include:

  • Being very young or very old
  • Chronic skin or lung disease.
  • Open wound
  • Taking medications that weaken your immune system (such as corticosteroids )
  • Injecting drug use, such as opioids.
  • Hospitalization or living in a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home.
  • Diabetes mellitus or HIV;
  • Having a transplanted organ or an implanted medical device (such as an artificial heart valve , pacemaker, or joint)
  • On dialysis
  • Long-term intravascular access (eg, a chemotherapy port )


Diagnosing a staph infection requires a medical history, a physical exam, and often tests such as cultures or various blood tests .

History and physical exam

The history and physical exam will be tailored to your unique symptoms. For example, looking for a possible skin infection, your healthcare provider will examine the affected skin for warmth, redness, tenderness, and drainage. They will also ask about symptoms that may indicate a more serious infection (such as fever or body aches), as well as the possible effects and risk factors of staph aureus.

A key aspect of the physical exam is to assess your vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature), as abnormalities may indicate a serious and / or systemic (whole body) infection of some kind.

Culture and other tests

Bacterial culture is used for the definitive diagnosis of skin infections caused by staphylococcal bacteria. Other tests that may be ordered to assess the severity of the infection include blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) , complete metabolic panel (CMP) . and C-reactive protein levels .

Imaging tests may also be ordered to evaluate specific organs (for example, an echocardiogram for endocarditis or a chest X- ray for pneumonia).

Watch out

After the diagnosis of staph infection, antibiotic therapy is the main method of treatment.

Antibiotics can be given topically (into the skin), orally (by mouth), or intravenously (through a vein).

The choice of a particular antibiotic depends on two main factors:

  • The severity of the infection
  • Are Staph Bacteria Resistant To Antibiotics?


Mild to moderate staph infections can usually be treated with topical or oral antibiotics.

For example, a topical antibiotic such as bactroban (mupirocin) may be considered for mild cases of impetigo and folliculitis. Also, an oral antibiotic such as keflex (cephalexin) can be used to treat mastitis or non-suppurative cellulitis (cellulitis without drainage of pus and associated abscess).

Intravenous antibiotics such as vancocin (vancomycin) , which are injected directly into the bloodstream, are necessary to treat serious staph infections such as osteomyelitis, pneumonia, and sepsis.


Although many staph infections can be treated with methicillin or a similar antibiotic such as keflex (cephalexin), some staph bacteria are resistant to methicillin. These bacteria are called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) .

To determine which antibiotics are effective against Staphylococcus aureus, healthcare providers can perform an antibiotic susceptibility test in a laboratory.

Then, depending on the site of the infection, healthcare providers may choose to treat the MRSA infection with a specific oral or intravenous antibiotic.

Nosocomial MRSA infections are often serious and life-threatening. They require treatment with intravenous antibiotics such as vancocin (vancomycin) or cubicin (daptomycin). After being discharged from the hospital, patients often go home with oral or intravenous antibiotics administered through the PICC line .

Community-acquired MRSA infections are usually less serious and not life-threatening. They can often be treated with oral antibiotics such as Bactrim (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole) or Cleocin (clindamycin).

Other treatments

It is important to remember that treatment for staph infections may include additional treatments along with antibiotics .

For example, an abscess usually requires an incision and drainage (from which the pus is removed). Similarly, an infected joint (septic arthritis) usually requires joint space drainage in addition to antibiotic therapy.

In the case of an infected bone or prosthesis, surgical debridement is required along with antibiotics.

Surgical decompression, along with antibiotics, is used to treat staphylococcal epidural abscesses .


Good hand hygiene and personal hygiene are key factors in preventing staph infection. This means washing your hands well with soap and water, avoiding sharing personal items with others, and covering wounds with a bandage until they heal .

For patients in a hospital with MRSA infections, isolation precautions, such as the use of disposable gowns and gloves, help prevent the spread of infection to staff and other patients. Disposable equipment, such as disposable stethoscopes, are also widely used.

Get the word of drug information

The bottom line is that while usually a harmless microbe, Staphylococcus aureus can cause serious infections. To take the initiative, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently and seek immediate medical attention for any signs of infection, such as redness or warmth of the skin, discharge, fever, chills, body aches, or other unusual symptoms.

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