Staphylococcus aureus, called “staph” for short, is one of the most common germs found on people’s skin and in their noses. Most of the time it doesn’t do any harm. But sometimes staph gets into the body and causes an infection – commonly referred to as a “staph infection”.
This infection can be minor (such as pimples or boils) or serious (such as blood infections). Staph is usually spread through direct contact with another person, not through the air. That is why it is very important to wash your hands. They can live on inanimate objects such as pillowcases or towels long enough to transfer to the next person who touches them.
Staph infections can range from minor skin problems to a life-threatening infection. As a result, signs and symptoms of staph infections vary widely, depending on the location and severity of the infection
Skin infections caused by staph bacteria include:
- Boils: The most common type of staph infection is the boil, a pocket of pus that develops in a hair follicle or oil gland. The skin over the infected area usually becomes red and swollen. If a boil breaks open, it will probably drain pus. Boils occur most often under the arms or around the groin or buttocks.
- Impetigo: Can develop in any skin injury, such as an insect bite, cut, or break in the skin. A child can spread the infection to other parts of his body by scratching. He can spread the germs to others in close contact by directly touching them. Impetigo can occur anytime. It is most common in warm weather when cuts and scrapes from outdoor play are more likely.
- What to look for:
- Red pimples
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Oozing rash covered by crusted yellow scabs
- What to look for:
Your pediatrician may diagnose the infection by taking a sample of the material from within the blister and having it tested in the laboratory.
- Cellulitis.. Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that first affects the outer layers of the skin and then may spread more deeply into body tissues under the skin. Although other types of bacteria can cause cellulitis, S. aureus is responsible for many childhood cases. Symptoms include redness, swelling, warmth, and tenderness of the skin.
- Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome. Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome is a disease that affects infants and young children. It tends to begin with a single staphylococcal skin infection in which bacteria produce a toxin that reddens and damages the skin. Large sections of the top layer of skin (epidermis) can be peeled or slipped away just by pressing down lightly or rubbing the affected area, exposing a raw and red layer that is vulnerable to other infectious organisms.
Staph food poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) bacteria. Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of food poisoning. Symptoms come on quickly, usually within hours of eating a contaminated food.
A staph infection in food usually doesn’t cause a fever. Signs and symptoms you can expect with this type of staph infection include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- stomach cramps
- Symptoms usually disappear quickly, Symptoms usually develop within 30 minutes to 8 hours after eating or drinking an item containing Staph toxin, and last no longer than 1 day.
- Severe illness is rare.
- The illness cannot be passed from one person to another
Also known as blood poisoning, septicemia occurs when staph bacteria enter a person’s bloodstream. A fever and low blood pressure are signs of septicemia. The bacteria can travel to locations deep within your body, to produce infections affecting:
- Internal organs, such as your brain, heart or lungs
- Bones and muscles
- Surgically implanted devices, such as artificial joints or cardiac pacemakers
Septic arthritis is an infection in the joint (synovial) fluid and joint tissues. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Joint swelling
- Severe pain in the affected joint
- Redness in the affected area
- Warmth around the infected area
- Limited use of the affected extremity
When to see a doctor
Go to the doctor if you or your child has:
- An area of red, irritated or painful skin
- Pus-filled blisters
You may also want to consult your doctor if:
- Skin infections are being passed from one family member to another
- Two or more family members have skin infections at the same time
These commonsense precautions can help lower your risk of developing staph infections:
- Wash your hands. Careful hand-washing is your best defense against germs. Wash your hands briskly for at least 20 seconds. If your hands aren’t visibly dirty, you can use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Keep wounds covered. Keep cuts and abrasions clean and covered with sterile, dry bandages until they heal. The pus from infected sores often contains staph bacteria, and keeping wounds covered will help keep the bacteria from spreading.
- Reduce tampon risks. Toxic shock syndrome is caused by staph bacteria. Since tampons left in for long periods can be a breeding ground for staph bacteria, you can reduce your chances of getting toxic shock syndrome by changing your tampon frequently, at least every four to eight hours. Use the lowest absorbency tampon you can, and try to alternate tampons with sanitary napkins whenever possible.
- Keep personal items personal. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, sheets, razors, clothing and athletic equipment. Staph infections can spread on objects, as well as from person to person.
- Wash clothing and bedding in hot water. Staph bacteria can survive on clothing and bedding that isn’t properly washed. To get bacteria off clothing and sheets, wash them in hot water whenever possible. Also, use bleach on any bleach-safe materials. Drying in the dryer is better than air-drying, but staph bacteria may survive the clothes dryer.
- Take food safety precautions. Wash your hands before handling food. If food will be out for a while, make sure that hot foods stay hot — above 140 F (60 C) — and that cold foods stay at 40° F (4.4 C) or below. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible.