Staph Infection

Condition Basics

What is a staph infection?

Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is a type of bacteria that can cause infections. Staph bacteria normally live on the skin. They don't usually cause problems. They only become a problem when they cause infection. The infection has a higher chance of becoming serious in people who are weak or ill or who are being treated in the hospital. Sometimes staph bacteria can cause more serious widespread infection.

In the hospital, staph infections are more likely to occur in wounds, burns, or places where there is a break in the skin or where tubes enter the body. In the community, these infections are more likely to occur among people who have cuts or wounds and who have close contact with one another.

How does it spread?

Staph bacteria can be spread by touching a person or object. It is often spread from the hands of someone who has a staph infection.

In the hospital, staph infections are more likely to occur in wounds, burns, or places where there is a break in the skin or where tubes enter the body. In the community, staph infections are more likely to occur among people who have cuts or wounds and who have close contact with one another.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a staph infection depend on where the infection is. If the infection is:

  • In a wound, that area of your skin may be red or tender.
  • On your skin, you may get a red, tender boil or abscess. You may think you have been bitten by a spider or insect.
  • In your urine, you may have symptoms of a urinary tract infection. These include burning when you urinate.
  • In your blood or more widespread, you may have a fever and feel very ill.

How is it diagnosed?

Staph infection is diagnosed based on a medical history and a physical exam. Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and your work and home environments.

The doctor will take a sample of your infected wound or a sample of blood, urine, or mucus (sputum) coughed up from the lungs. The sample is tested for staph bacteria. This test may take several days.

In some cases, imaging is done to look for signs of infection. For example, a chest X-ray can show a lung infection.

How is a staph infection treated?

The doctor will take a sample of your infected wound or a blood or urine sample. The sample is tested to see which antibiotics can kill the bacteria in it. This test may take several days.

If you have a staph infection, your doctor may:

  • Drain your wound.
  • Give you antibiotics as pills or through a needle put in your vein (IV).

You may have to stay in the hospital for treatment. In the hospital, you may be kept apart from others. This is to reduce the chances of spreading the bacteria.

How can you prevent it?

  • Practice good hygiene.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and clean, running water. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Hand-washing is the best way to avoid spreading the bacteria.
    • Keep cuts and scrapes clean. Cover them with a bandage. Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.
    • Don't share personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, or clothing.
    • Keep your environment clean by using a disinfectant to wipe surfaces you touch a lot. These include countertops, doorknobs, and light switches.
  • If you're in the hospital, remind doctors and nurses to wash their hands before and after they touch you.

Credits

Current as of: September 23, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine