Last reviewed by Editorial Team on August 13th, 2018.
What is Staph Infection?
This is an infection that is characterized by the presence of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus simply known as staph. About a fourth of the population of the world carries these bacteria around in their bodies, particularly their mouth, genitals, anal area, or nose, which makes staph infections quite common. The staph bacteria are actually a germ that people can pick up anywhere. These bacteria can exploit people who have compromised immune system or have small cuts in their skin. How severe a staph infection can be depends on the area which is infected and the condition of the patient.
There is one strain of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that is particularly dangerous and is called Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). This form of the bacteria has developed a resistance to most of the antibiotics that are used to treat staph infections. This makes this strain hard to treat and can be potentially dangerous.
Staph Infection Symptoms
The early symptoms of having a staph infection depend on the area that is affected by the infection but there are some common symptoms that you may have if you have a staph infection. Some of these can include:
- Having the formation of a boil, furuncle, or abscess that is filled with pus is one of the most common symptoms a person could have, especially if it is a skin infection
- The area that is affected may become swollen, causes pain, and appear red
- If the staph infection results in sepsis or bacteremia you may be diagnosed with low blood pressure or you may experience cold and fever
- If the staph infection infects any implants such as a catheter, you may have redness, the occurrence of pus or drainage, and tenderness
There are some instances of having a staph infection where you may experience a headache, body aches, diarrhea, feeling of faintness, and difficulty in breathing.
Symptoms of different forms of staph infections
If the staph infection is in your bloodstream it is known as Bacteremia, or simply blood poisoning. Some of the symptoms of this form can include a persistent fever. It can travel to locations such as your muscles and bones, internal organs like your lungs, heart, or brain, or in devices that are surgically implanted like pacemakers.
Toxic shock syndrome, which has been linked to certain brands of tampons, surgery, and skin wounds, is the result of toxins that are produced by certain strains of the bacteria and is a life-threatening condition. Some of the symptoms can include having a high fever, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, headaches, seizures, confusion, and a rash that looks like sunburn on the soles of your feet or palms of your hands.
Septic arthritis will usually target your knees but it can affect other joints like your hip, elbow, shoulder, ankle, and wrist. If you have this type of staph infection you may experience swelling and severe pain in the joint affected, chills, and fever.
Staph Infection Causes
It is caused by a group of bacteria that is referred to as staph bacteria, which causes infection in various tissues of your body. There are over thirty different types of staph bacteria that can cause this infection. When a person has the MRSA type of staph infection it is normally caused by the overuse of antibiotics. This happens when a person is prescribed antibiotics for colds, viral infections, and the flu. MRSA can also happen from germ mutation and antibiotics in foods. The germs that have caused the infections survive the antibiotic treatment and just become stronger until no antibiotics are effective in treating MRSA and even some general staph infections.
The staph infection happens when the harmful bacteria penetrates your body through exposed areas like open sores or cuts or surgical incisions. The staph bacteria can even enter your body through insect bites, burns, and skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema. Many times you will find staph infections, particularly MRSA, in nursing homes and hospitals.
If a person goes their physician because they suspect it could be a staph infection the physician will usually do a physical exam, take a medical history, and get the symptoms the person is experiencing and then take a swab to culture the bacteria to confirm it is or is not a staph infection. The physician may run additional lab tests before they decide on the course of treatment. If the physician plans to prescribe antibiotics they need to know what strain of staph bacteria is causing the infection because certain antibiotics work more effective against certain strains of the staph bacteria.
The treatment for a staph infection depends on the type of infection that a person has. The most common treatment used is to treat the infection with antibiotics but if it is MRSA, this form of staph infection is resistant to antibiotics. If you have a skin infection caused by the staph bacteria and it is minor it can be treated using ointments either over-the-counter or by prescription. In some cases if there is an abscess the physician may have it drained surgically. If the staph infection needs to be extracted from your body they may need to undergo surgery. If antibiotics are prescribed what they will be depends on the test results that will identify the strain of the bacteria that caused the infection. If the infection is the result of MRSA bacteria the physician may use a combination of antibiotics to treat the infection. If it is a serious case of staph infection you may need to be hospitalized to be given antibiotics intravenously. This can happen if you are given antibiotics orally for MRSA and they are not working.
One important thing to remember is that if you are given an antibiotic to treat a staph infection you need to make sure that you complete the entire course of antibiotics to help reduce antibiotic resistance from developing. If you do not complete the entire course what antibiotics you did take will kill off the weak bacteria but the resistant bacteria will thrive and breed more bacteria.
Once it has been confirmed that you have a staph infection it is important that you start treatment immediately to help prevent the bacteria from entering your bloodstream where it could become a life-threatening condition. Even if you are being treated by the physician you can help at home by keeping the area of the infection clean along with applying warm compresses to the area.
Is staph infection contagious?
Staph infections are very contagious so it is very important that you minimize the transmission of this infection to other people. If you work in a hospital, a nursing home, or taking care of someone at home with a staph infection make sure that you use proper hygiene like washing your hands very well with soap and hot water and washing their bedding and clothing in hot water separate from other clothes.