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Symptoms, Stages, Causes, Treatment, Contagiousness

What Is a Staph Infection of the Skin?

A staph infection is caused by a Staphylococcus (or “staph”) bacteria. Actually, about 25% of people normally carry staph in the nose, mouth, genitals, or anal area, and don’t have symptoms of an infection. The foot is also very prone to picking up bacteria from the floor. The infection often begins with a little cut, which gets infected with bacteria. This can look like honey-yellow crusting on the skin.

These staph infections range from a simple boil to antibiotic-resistant infections to flesh-eating infections. The difference between all these is the strength of the infection, how deep it goes, how fast it spreads, and how treatable it is with antibiotics. The antibiotic-resistant infections are more common in North America, because of our overuse of antibiotics.

One type of staph infection that involves skin is called cellulitis and affects the skin’s deeper layers. It is treatable with antibiotics.

This type of infection is very common in the general population — and more common and more severe in people with weak immune systems. People who have diabetes or weakened immunity are particularly prone to developing cellulitis.

What Are the Symptoms of a Staph Infection of the Skin?

Staph cellulitis usually begins as a small area of tenderness, swelling, and redness. Sometimes it begins with an open sore. Other times, there is no obvious break in the skin at all.

The signs of cellulitis are those of any inflammation — redness, warmth, swelling, and pain. Any skin sore or ulcer that has these signs may be developing cellulitis. If the staph infection spreads, the person may develop a fever, sometimes with chills and sweats, as well as swelling in the area.

Other staph infections of the skin include impetigo, a painful rash that is contagious, boils, and in babies and young children, staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome, which causes rash, blisters, and fever.

What’s the Treatment for a Staph Infection?

Antibiotics are used to treat staph infections. But there’s been a gradual change in how well these antibiotics work. While most staph infections used to be treatable with penicillin, stronger antibiotics are now used.

In about 50% of cases, however, resistance is seen to even these stronger antibiotics. These cases are no longer just happening in hospitals — as once was true — but now are occurring in the general community. That’s been a problem. Many doctors are accustomed to using certain antibiotics, but those then fail because of antibiotic resistance. There are several more potent antibiotics now, but doctors need to know when to use them to prevent further antibiotic resistance.

There’s another treatment sometimes used with staph infections. If the infection goes so deep that it involves muscles or fibers that enclose muscles, it needs to be surgically cleaned.

Can Staph Infections Be Prevented?

A couple of recent outbreaks among football players began when one team member had a boil and the infection was spread to other team members. You can take steps to help prevent staph infections. Any time you have a cut or skin breakdown, wash it with soap and water, over-the- counter hypochlorous acid or chlorhexadine, keep it clean and dry, and keep it covered. A diluted bleach bath twice a week may be helpful to prevent staph skin infections.

A staph infection is contagious if the wound is weeping or draining and if people share towels or other items that are contaminated. Wearing foot coverings in locker rooms and other commonly used areas can help prevent contamination.

If the sore becomes unusually painful or red, get prompt medical attention. If red lines develop, that’s a sign the infection is spreading and needs immediate medical attention.

Staphylococcus aureus – golden staph

Staphylococcus aureus, or S. aureus, is a common bacterium that lives on the skin or in the nose. It is also called golden staph. In most situations, S. aureus is harmless. However, if it enters the body through a cut in the skin, it can cause a range of mild to severe infections, which may cause death in some cases.

How golden staph is spread

Golden staph is commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. Around two to three out of every tenpeople carry the bacterium in their noses. This is known as ‘colonisation’ – the bacteria are present, but do not cause infection. The armpits (axilla), groin and under skin folds are other places golden staph likes to inhabit.

Golden staph can be spread by skin-on-skin contact or by touching contaminated surfaces. Poor personal hygiene and not covering open wounds can lead to infection with golden staph. Thorough hand washing and good housekeeping, such as damp dusting, are important as golden staph is part of our environment.

Infections caused by golden staph

Common infections caused by golden staph include:

  • boils and abscesses – infections of the skin
  • impetigo (school sores) – a highly contagious, crusty skin infection that may affect newborn babies and schoolchildren.

More serious infections include:

  • meningitis – infection of the membranes lining the brain
  • osteomyelitis – infection of the bone and bone marrow
  • pneumonia – infection of one or both lungs
  • septic phlebitis – infection of a vein
  • endocarditis – infection of the heart valves.

Drug-resistant strains of golden staph

A bacterial infection consists of countless individual bacteria. Most infections caused by golden staph are treatable with antibiotics. However, there is a strong possibility that a few bacteria will survive a course of antibiotics, perhaps due to a gene mutation. The antibiotic-resistant golden staph bacteria that remain then flourish, since they no longer have to compete for resources with the rest of the colony.

Resistant strains of golden staph are known as multi-resistant S. aureus (MRSA). Unnecessary or excessive use of antibiotics encourages drug-resistant strains. The overuse of disinfectants in general can also lead to drug resistance. In most cases, good cleaning or washing with soap and warm water is enough.

Antibiotic resistance is a serious public health problem

Before antibiotics, a severe infection was fatal for many people. Penicillin was effective in treating golden staph until the bacterium became resistant. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, new antibiotics such as methicillin and vancomycin were developed, which successfully treated golden staph infections.

Methicillin-resistant strains of golden staph evolved in the 1970s and have troubled hospitals worldwide with persistent infections in patients. A vancomycin-resistant strain of golden staph emerged in Japan, and strains with partial resistance to vancomycin have been found in the USA, Australia and other countries.

Infection in hospitals

Hospital patients are more likely to be infected by golden staph because of surgical or other wounds. These people can become seriously ill if their golden staph infections resist treatment from most types of antibiotics, and they may require isolation from other patients.

Standard hygiene practices undertaken by hospital staff include:

  • always washing hands when they are soiled for any reason
  • using an alcohol-based hand rub solution (with or without chlorhexidine) between patients when taking observations (such as pulse and temperature), bed making or performing other similar duties
  • washing hands before, and after, performing procedures on patients
  • wearing gloves, gowns and masks (if necessary)
  • handling used equipment and laundry with care
  • isolating infected patients when required
  • thoroughly cleaning all surfaces.

Golden staph infections with resistant strains are becoming more common in the community, including among people who have not been in hospital recently (within the past year) or had a medical procedure (such as dialysis, surgery or catheters).

These infections are called ‘community-acquiredgolden staph or ‘community-acquired MRSA’. These are similar, but different to strains of golden staph found in hospitals, and can cause mild to severe infections.

Preventing the spread of golden staph
Since golden staph is easily spread by contaminated hands, strict hygiene practices are needed, such as hand washing with soap and warm water, as well as good housekeeping.

Cover all open wounds with a waterproof occlusive dressing until healed.

The use of alcohol-based hand rub solutions in ‘clean’ situations when hands are visibly clean, particularly when water is not immediately available, may be useful when travelling or at a picnic, for example. These solutions are not necessary in the home or work situation.

There are some situations when alcohol-based hand rub solutions should never be used – for example, instead of washing after going to the toilet. Hands should be washed with soap and warm water and dried.

Long-term prevention of golden staph

Worldwide measures need to be taken to prevent new resistant strains of S. aureus from emerging. Experts propose:

  • a more conservative approach to using antibiotics
  • the use of narrow-spectrum rather than broad-spectrum antibiotics
  • limiting the use of antibiotics like vancomycin
  • maintaining or upgrading hygiene practices in hospitals and the community
  • good infection prevention and control measures, such as hand washing
  • developing new lines of antibiotics that are effective against golden staph.

Where to get help

Things to remember

  • Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a common bacterium that lives on the skin and in some people’s noses.
  • Golden staph can cause a range of mild to severe infections.
  • Excessive use of antibiotics has led to drug-resistant strains of S. aureus (MRSA).

How to Treat Staph Infections in Kids

A staph infection is an infection caused by bacteria (staphylococcus) that lives naturally on our skin surfaces.

Mostly, the bacteria live on our skin and are harmless. The problem arises when the skin is broken or cracked. When that happens, the bacteria can enter the wound and can cause an infection to occur.

Signs and Symptoms of Staph Infections:

Staph infections can show up in different ways. Here are the six most common conditions caused by staph bacteria.

  1. Boils. A boil is a pocket of pus that develops in a hair follicle or oi glans. The skin around a boil is usually red and/or swollen.
  2. Impetigo. Impetigo is a painful, contagious rash that sometimes forms around the lips or chin. It appears as oozing blisters that cause drainage, and honey-colored crust will then form.
  3. Stye. A stye is a red, warm, sometimes painful lump around the eye or near the eyelid.
  4. Cellulitis. Cellulitis is an infection in the deep layers of the skin. It often appears as a red and swollen area on your skin. The area may spread and sometimes is accompanied by a fever and pain.
  5. MRSA. Also known as Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, MRSA is a staph bacterium resistant to antibiotics normally used to treat staph infections. This makes this infection harder to treat, but it will usually heal with good care.
  6. Scalded Skin Syndrome. This most often occurs in newborns and children under five years of age. Most children will make a full recovery if treated properly.

Are Staph Infections Contagious?

Staph infections can be contagious. They spread by touching a shared, contaminated surface or person-to-person, especially in a group living situation or by sharing towels, bed linens, or clothing. A staph infection can also spread from one area of the body to another.

How to Treat a Staph Infection

Most staph infections can be treated at home by doing the following as soon as you notice a symptom:

  1. Soak the area with warm water and apply a warm compress for up to 20 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a day. I
  2. Your doctor may recommend an antibiotic cream. If so, apply and cover with a clean dressing or band-aid.
  3. Pain relievers can be used.

When to Call the Doctor

Please consult your doctor if multiple people in the home have infections, or if they seem to be spreading. Likewise, if a minor infection gets worse or your child develops a fever, call a doctor.






The information and content on our website should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment or advice from your doctor.

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Filed under: Illnesses, Overall Health

Tags: pediatrician Franklin, Skin Condition, Staph Infection