Staph Infections

What is a Staph Infection?

The bacteria known as Staphylococcus can cause mild to severe skin infections. There are many distinct bacteria within this group, and some of them have developed antibiotic resistance that makes treatment difficult or even impossible.

The bacteria lives in the noses or skin of many people, but an opening in the skin and a weakened immune system let the microbes move in and start damaging the surrounding tissue. The most serious infections become life-threatening as they spread to the organs.

What are the Symptoms of Staph Infections?

Infections start with a cut, scratch, or a tiny crack in the skin that allows the bacteria to get under the surface. When a skin opening becomes infected, a honey-colored crust forms around the edges. Further symptoms include:

  • Swollen boil-like growths full of pus
  • Oozing and weeping wounds
  • Warmth or heat emanating from the injury
  • Pain and tenderness
  • General signs of an infection such as a mild fever and fatigue

Staph Infections Causes

Staph infections are caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) which usually lives harmlessly on the surface of the skin. The skin usually acts as an effective barrier to prevent the bacteria entering the body, but if the skin is wounded in some way, even via a small scrape, it can enter the body and cause infection.

People with skin conditions such as eczema are at an increased risk of staph infections because they are more likely to have broken skin where the bacteria could enter. Those with autoimmune disorders or who have a weakened immune system due to chemotherapy or steroid medications are also more susceptible to serious staph infections because their bodies are less capable of fighting off the infection, meaning that it can more easily spread from the skin to other parts of the body.

Sometimes staph infections occur as a result of surgical procedures if the tools and equipment used are contaminated with the bacteria, or surgeons have the bacteria on their skin. However, the likelihood of this occurring is extremely low due to the sterilization procedures and high standards of hygiene adopted by hospitals.

How is a Staph Infection Treated?

For simple cases, antibiotic ointment or oral medication are enough to kill the bacteria and eliminate the problem. When the bacteria involved is already resistant to the available medications, surgery is often the only option for excising infected and damaged tissue.

There are no other medications available to kill the bacteria. Many staph infections put extra stress on the heart or immune system, so some treatments are aimed at supporting the body as it fights off the bacteria itself.

Staph Infections Prevention

Good personal hygiene practices can help to reduce the risk of staph infections. Daily showers or baths and frequent washing of hands are particularly vital.

Cuts, scrapes, burns and rashes should be properly bandaged with sterilized materials to reduce the risk of a staph infection, or at least be covered with clothing if they are very minor.

If one person in a household has a staph infection, they can avoid passing it to others by avoiding the use of shared towels, sheets or clothing until the infection has cleared. Similarly, to prevent it from spreading to other parts of their body they should avoid touching it and avoid using a towel on the area which will be used elsewhere on the body.


Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 22, 2017