Staph Infection: FAQ
How do you get a staph infection?
The bacteria most responsible for skin infections are called Staphylococcus aureus (often shortened to S. aureus). Most staph infections result in only minor skin infections. If you have a cut or burn, or a skin condition like eczema, you may be more likely to get a staph skin infection.
Staph bacteria commonly live on the skin and in your nose. Infections are frequently spread by skin-to-skin contact among individuals or on the same person by touching an infected site and then touching another area of the body. Contact with either contaminated objects or surfaces can also be a source of transmission.
Athletes engaging in contact sports can spread staph infections through skin abrasions and cuts, or through the sharing of personal items, such as equipment or towels. Living in group situations can increase a person's risk of getting a staph infection through the sharing of personal items, such as clothing, pillowcases, towels, etc. Warm and humid conditions, crowded areas, as well as sweating, can encourage staph infections to occur.
How does a staph infection become serious?
Serious staph infections rarely develop, however, they can happen when S. aureus enters the bloodstream through breaks in the skin. Elderly individuals or people with weakened immune systems or chronic illnesses (such as cancer, HIV-AIDS, lung or vascular diseases, or diabetes) have a greater risk for developing staph infections. Through the release of toxins by the staph bacteria, infections can become serious or even life-threatening when the blood, bones, central nervous system, heart, joints, or the lungs are affected.
Hospital patients who undergo surgeries or medical procedures (e.g., dialysis) face greater risk of serious staph infections. Consequently, healthcare workers are trained in limiting the risk of infections by sterilization procedures, frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers.
What does a staph skin infection look like?
Staphylococcal skin infections show a range of symptoms including:
- Pain, redness and swelling around an open skin wound (such as a cut or scrape)
- Furuncles (boils) and carbuncles (collection of multiple infected hair follicles) that resemble white-headed pimples around hair follicles
- Blistering and peeling skin (more common in infants and young children)
- Swollen lymph nodes in the armpits, groin or neck
Skin conditions commonly caused by S. aureus include:
- Stye (also known as sty or hordeolum)
Types of Staph Infections
What can you do to reduce your risk of getting a staph skin infection?
Many healthy people carry staph bacteria on their skin and in their nose without becoming ill.
Maintaining good personal hygiene through frequent hand washing, bathing or showering daily, and regularly laundering clothing are ways in which you can help to limit your chances of getting a staph infection.
Skin wounds (such as cuts, scrapes and burns) should be quickly cleaned and covered with bandages that are changed regularly. Handle and discard used bandages with care in order to avoid spreading the infection. Make certain to wash your hands before and after caring for the affected skin area. Antibiotic ointments may be applied for additional protection, but consult with your doctor first to determine if the medicine is appropriate for your skin.
Especially if you have a skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis, use suitable emollient-rich moisturizers to prevent cracks from forming in the skin, which can provide entry points for S. aureus.
If you have a staph infection, you can take steps to limit spreading the infection to others, as well as to other parts of your body, by being careful not to touch the infected skin, keeping it covered, and using either a towel only once or disposable paper towels. Launder used towels in hot water and dry under a hot setting. If someone in the household has a staph infection, avoid sharing towels, bedding, or clothing.
Staph Infection Prevention Tips
What steps can you take to feel better?
Staph infections frequently result in minor skin problems that can be treated at home. The healing time depends on the type of infection that you have. A boil usually resolves on its own without treatment in about 1-2 weeks. Most styes do not require any treatment and improve within a few days. However, if you have other health concerns or a severe infection more intensive therapy, such as oral or intravenous antibiotics, may be required. If your doctor has prescribed antibiotics as part of your treatment, you must take them as directed and finish all of the medication in order to avoid bacterial resistance.
If a skin lesion contains pus, warm compresses to the affected area will help reduce the pressure and discomfort by encouraging drainage and promoting healing. The procedure involves using a washcloth that's wetted with hot water and placed over a boil or abscess. The application of warm compresses may be repeated a few times each day over several days. Topical antimicrobial medications are commonly used with the warm compress to treat localized staph infections of the skin. Use a clean washcloth each time and wash used cloths in soap and hot water, and then dry out completely. Warm compresses can also be used to treat a stye - place the cloth over your eye (with the eye closed) and repeat 3-4 times daily. See your doctor if the stye doesn't improve in a few days.
Avoid shaving the infected skin area until the infection clears up. If you do have to shave, use a clean disposable razor or thoroughly clean your electric razor after each use.
If pain medication is required, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be taken to relieve the discomfort until the infection improves.
What is the expect outcome of staph infections?
With early intervention and management, and if necessary, treatment with appropriate antibiotic therapy, the prospect for recovery is excellent. However, with antibiotic resistant strains of staph infections, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) the recovery depends on the severity of the infection and if the individual has chronic conditions that impair their body's immune responses. MRSA-related pneumonia and blood poisoning are associated with higher mortality rates.
Is pet-to-human transmission possible?
Yes. Staph and MRSA infections can spread from dogs to humans mainly through bite wounds. Transmission is unusual through casual contact. Pet to human transmissions are increasing, but it is likely that pets initially acquired the germ from contact with humans; staph bacteria is then passed back and forth between pets and their owners, as well as through contact with other human acquaintances.
How are staph infections diagnosed?
Staph infections should be confirmed by your doctor, who will visually inspect the affected skin area. If a serious staph infection is suspected, either a tissue sample or nasal secretion can be collected by a laboratory and cultured for signs of the bacteria. Laboratory testing can not only confirm the diagnosis, but it can also be helpful in determining which antibiotic will be most effective against a particular strain of bacteria. Serious staphylococcal infections that affect the blood, heart or lungs will require culturing of blood samples or other body fluids.
Staph Infection Diagnosis and Treatment
How are staph infections treated?
Antibiotic therapy serves as the conventional method of treatment. Minor skin infections can usually be treated successfully with an antibiotic ointment. Topical or oral antibiotics may be prescribed to treat infected skin, especially if these areas involve eczema lesions. Penicillin use to work well against staph infections, but as bacterial resistance developed to this drug, other antibiotics, such as methicillin, cloxacillin, and didoxacillin have been used. However, bacterial resistance to these agents is increasing. Intravenous antibiotics are used to treat serious and life-threatening infections.
Surgical drainage may be required if abscesses are present. Advanced infections that spread deep into muscles or muscle fibers will require surgical cleaning.
To minimize this incidence of MRSA, patients must strictly follow dosage instructions and finish all of the prescribed oral antibiotics.
Staph Infection Diagnosis and Treatment
What is MRSA?
Due to its rising prevalence, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA is a type of skin infection that is causing increasing concern in the medical community. This type of bacteria is commonly referred to as a "superbug" because it has developed resistance to conventional antibiotics, such as methicillin, amoxicillin, penicillin andoxacillin, which are generally used to treat these infections. There is even evidence that some strains of S. aureus have shown resistance to vancomycin, a stronger antibiotic that is normally effective against staph infections. Although vancomycin is a powerful antibiotic, it is being used cautiously in order to prevent the development of widespread resistance.
MRSA occurs most frequently in patients who are elderly, undergo medical or surgical procedures, have compromised immune systems, or receive medical care in healthcare facilities, such as hospitals or nursing homes. In these healthcare settings, MRSA can cause serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as blood-poisoning, surgical site infections, or pneumonia.
A common way for bacteria to develop resistance to an antibiotic is if a patient stops taking the antibiotic too early, which allows some stronger bacteria (those with a higher tolerance to the antibiotic through mutation or trading genes with other bacteria) to multiply and gradually acquire resistance. Bacteria often gain resistance because they were given to patients who did not need the antibiotic to begin with, or because they were not given or taken at the right dose or for the required length of time.
Most MRSA skin infections are usually mild and can be effectively treated with proper skin care and antibiotics. In some cases, MRSA can become life-threatening, especially if the infection invades the blood or bones. A limited selection of antibiotics is capable of treating MRSA infections.
It is common for people to carry MRSA on their skin or in their nostrils without causing any harm. MRSA is mainly spread from people with active skin infections through direct physical contact. Indirect bacterial transmission is also possible through contact with contaminated objects (such as towels, sheets, wound dressings, clothes, workout areas, sports equipment).
MRSA and CA-MRSA
What can you do to reduce your risk?
Since staph bacteria is spread primarily through skin-to-skin contact with others and within the same individual, as well as by touching contaminated surfaces and inanimate objects, basic hygiene in the form of frequent and proper hand washing represents the best way to reduce your exposure.
Proper hand washing technique includes: rubbing your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 10-15 seconds, then rinsing off all traces of soap residue using warm running water and drying off with a single-use paper towel. You should always wash your hands after using the toilet (especially when using public washroom facilities); after changing a diaper; after touching pets; before, during and after preparing food; before eating, after blowing your nose; after coughing or sneezing; before and after treating wounds; before and after touching a sick or injured person; after handling garbage; and before putting in or taking out contact lenses. If you have young children, it's essential to encourage them to develop good hygiene habits and teach them the benefits of regular hand washing utilizing the proper steps.
Because staph bacteria are so widespread and they can cause a wide spectrum of symptoms and diseases, prevention of infections requires limiting your exposure to the associated risk factors. Avoid close skin contact with possible infected individuals and don't share personal items with others. Promptly clean, treat and cover-up skin injuries.
For menstruating women, reduce the risk of toxic shock syndrome by changing tampons every 4-6 hours. Use low-absorbency tampons, alternating between sanitary pads and tampons.
Using care and attention while preparing and handling food can decrease the risk of staphylococcal food poisoning. If food is handled and stored improperly, staphylococcal bacteria can grow and produce toxins that can cause nausea and vomiting, and less frequently, diarrhea and fever. Symptoms caused by staph-related food poisoning are generally felt within 1-6 hours of ingesting contaminated food. The illness usually lasts for 1-3 days, and resolves on its own.
Staph Infection: Risk Factors |
Staph Infection Prevention Tips