Staph Infections

1 What are staph infections?

Staph infections are caused by staphylococcus bacteria which are commonly found in the skin and upper respiratory tract of healthy individuals.

Most often, these bacteria that are already present in body are harmless, but in some people bacteria may invade deeper into the body, entering the bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs, or heart, causing life-threatening situations. This article will shed some light on symptoms of staph infection, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

MRSA Staph Infection

Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a staph infection caused by a particular strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacterium that’s tougher to treat and more resistant to commonly used antibiotics. These bacteria normally live on the skin and in the nose. Most of the time, they are completely harmless, but when they start to multiply uncontrollably, it may cause a MRSA staph infection. These infections usually transmit when there’s a cut, abrasion, scratch, or break in your skin.

MRSA is very contagious and can be spread through direct skin-to-skin contact or skin-to-object contact.

2 Symptoms of staph infection

Signs and symptoms of staph infections depend on the affected organ of the body. Staph infections can range from minor skin problems to life-threatening situations like endocarditis. Since staph infection is caused by a group of bacteria that can affect different organs of the body, the signs and symptoms of the condition also vary. Most people have heard of staph infection, as this is the leading cause of skin infections in the United States. However, not many people know that this disease can also infest other parts of the human body. While you might be aware of staph infection symptoms when it attacks your skin, you might not be aware of the symptoms when it brings damage to your other organs. Hence, in this section, we’ve compiled the different signs on how to recognize this disease. Here are the various staph infection symptoms:

Infection of the skin

The following are some of the skin-based symptoms:

  • Boils: A boil is also known as “Furuncle”. It is a bacterial infection that started in the hair follicle. If you think that this infection only exists on the scalp as this is where your hair strands are, then you are wrong. The human body is basically covered with hair. Yes, even those tiny hair stands on your arms, legs and back. Hence, it is possible to get boils on the different parts of your body. Boils are usually the most common signs of staph infection. These are noticeably swollen spots, usually red, and in serious cases, they are filled with puss inside.
  • Impetigo: Impetigo is another bacterial skin infection that is caused by staph bacteria and is most common in children. Just like boils, they are also noticeable because of their red sore symptoms. These red sores can break open and a transparent fluid oozes out from the sore and hardens into a yellow-brown crust. The impetigo usually develops as small red spots at first before the spots break open. It can also appear as small as a pimple or as large as a coin. A lot of concerned people ask, “Is staph infection contagious?” Well, it depends on the type, and impetigo is among the contagious type of infections.
  • Cellulitis: Cellulitis is yet another sign of staph infection on the skin. While the boil and impetigo appear on the skin surface, cellulitis is a type of infection wherein the bacteria thrive deeper into the skin layers and affect the underlying tissues of your skin. The infection can occur anywhere in the body, but cellulitis occurs mostly on the lower legs. This usually develops a red and swollen area on the skin that is quite hot and tender when you touch it. If you suspect that you have cellulitis, it is highly suggested that you visit a professional as this can be life-threatening if left untreated. 
  • Staphylococcal scaled skin syndrome: Toxins produced by staph may lead to this syndrome featuring:

Infection of the gastrointestinal tract

It is imperative to know the symptoms of gastrointestinal tract infection since this is among those life-threatening cases if not treated immediately. It is one of the leading causes of intestinal infections that most people tend to regard as a minor illness. Some of the symptoms include:

Staph bacteria is also a common cause of food poisoning, whose signs and symptoms also include those listed above. 

Infection of the blood

The staph infection in the blood is also referred to as blood poisoning. This happens when the staph bacteria penetrate the bloodstream which results in the condition called bacteremia. Bacteremia can affect the muscles, bones, heart, lungs, kidneys, and even the brain. Seek medical help immediately once any of these symptoms appear:

  • High fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle pain, especially in areas where surgically implanted devices are located. Some examples would be pacemakers and artificial joints.
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Staph can also cause toxic shock syndrome if not treated in a timely manner. Symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • A rash which can resemble burns

Infection of the joints

The infection in the joints can be recognized through various signs and symptoms. The most common associated condition is septic arthritis. Ask for professional help immediately before the infection gets worse and leads to permanent damage such as joint degeneration. The signs of septic arthritis are listed below:

  • The joints are swollen, appear red, and feel warm.
  • There is discomfort in your joint areas such as in the hips, ankles, knees, wrists and elbows. If there is a recurring discomfort in your joint areas, you might have septic arthritis already.
  • Some people might also feel muscle pain near the joint area.

3 Causes of staph infection

Now that we have established the leading signs and symptoms of staph infections; it is only appropriate that you are aware of the causes as well. There are several ways in which one can be infected by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, but one of the staph infection causes is through direct skin contact. You can also get the infection when you have scratches or when you make physical contact with a surface that has staph bacteria present. Below are some answers to your question, how do you get a staph infection?

Staph infections are cause by staphylococcus bacteria. Many people carry staph bacteria, but never develop infections. Staph bacteria can be transmitted from person to person and from object to person. These bacteria are able to survive in dry conditions, extreme temperatures and severe saline conditions.  

  1. Person to person contamination: You can get staph infection when you are in close contact with a person who is infected by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. For instance, if a person has impetigo that breaks out or has boils with pus, then the infection can transfer to you if you happen to touch the fluid from these skin-based infections. Please remember that staph infection can also be transmitted from one area of the body to another. 
  2. Object to person contamination: The Staphylococcus aureus bacteria can also thrive on certain objects. If an object infected with the bacteria comes in contact with your skin, then you will get the infection as well. In object to person contamination, the staph infection will mostly infect the skin layers. If you have an open wound or sore, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and can become dangerous as it spreads through the blood to your joints and organs. 

4 Diagnosing a staph infection

Diagnosis of staph infection includes:

  • Physical examination: Your doctor will closely examine your skin lesions.
  • Biopsy: Most often, diagnosis of staph infections is established by checking a tissue sample or nasal secretions for signs of the bacteria.
  • Lab testing: Microbiological examination is performed to identify the bacteria.

5 Staph infection treatment

Treating staph infection often involves professional help. Although you can take self-prevention measures, treating the infection fully needs an expert’s attention.  

Treatment for staph infection includes:

  • Medications: According to the diagnosis established, specific antibiotics to kill the bacteria are prescribed. Common antibiotics groups which are used to treat staph infections include cephalosporins, nafcillin and tetracyclines. Vancomycin is required to treat severe staph infections because many strains have become resistant to classical antibiotics.
  • Wound drainage: Your doctor will make an incision into the sore to drain the fluid.
  • Device removal: If your infection involves a device or prosthetic in the body, removal of the device is required for better healing.

Follow these steps on how to treat staph infections:

  1. Visit your doctor immediately once you notice any symptom of staph infection.
  2. Provide your doctor with your health history and clear details and descriptions of the symptoms that you currently have. It is important that your doctor knows how you were infected by the bacteria so that proper treatment is prescribed.
  3. Follow the instructions or medications given without fail. This is very important when taking antibiotics. Certain types of staph infection are resistant to antibiotics.

NOTE: Just like most bacterial infections, a staph infection can be treated with antibiotics. However, one must consult an expert first before taking one. This is because some staph bacteria, specifically the methicillin-resistant strain, can resist antibiotics. Moreover, some people also develop certain allergies when taking antibiotics. Hence, it pays to have a check-up beforehand. 

6 How to prevent staph infection

Bacterial infections like staph infection can be prevented through proper hygiene and health routines. To minimize the risk of getting such infections, the following preventive measures are recommended:

  1. Wash your hands: A simple hygiene routine like properly washing hands can do wonders for our health. Most bacteria are transmitted through our hands; hence, always keep them clean. Don’t just whisk your hands into the water and pat them dry. Follow the 30-second rule of hand washing with soap. Also, clean your fingernails and the in-betweens of your fingers as these are areas where bacteria may hide.
  2. Use hand sanitizer: This may be an additional expense on your end, but for those people who don't like getting their hands wet after doing some tedious work that involves hand activities, a hand sanitizer can be used instead. Just make sure that you use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 65% alcohol in it. Any lesser alcohol content will not effectively kill the bacteria that thrive on your hands.
  3. Cover your cuts properly: If for some reason you have cuts or open wounds, cover them properly with the appropriate bandages and use supplies in a handy first aid kit. Leaving cuts and wounds open makes it easier for staph bacteria to infect your skin, which then results in skin infections. You can use a bandage for minor cuts and punctures. Choose a bandage that has good grip and is dry and sterile.
  4. Don’t share personal belongings: Sharing of personal items such as toothbrushes and even kitchen utensils can be the cause of staph infection transmission, especially within the family. To stop staph infection from spreading, always keep your personal stuff to yourself.
  5. Don’t use tampons for too long: For women, using tampons for too long should be avoided at all costs. This is because the tampon used for too long may result in skin rashes, or worse, cause toxic shock syndrome. To avoid this from happening, always make sure to change your tampon at least three to six times a day or every four or eight hours. 
taph infection

7 Alternative and homeopathic remedies for staph infection

Some home remedies which are popularly used for staph infections include:

  • Turmeric (an ancient herb known for its antibiotic properties)
  • Garlic
  • Coconut oil
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Fenugreek seeds

8 Staph infection risks and complications

A variety of factors ranging from state of immune system to the kind of sports you play can increase your risk of developing staph infections.

  • Some health conditions make a person more susceptible to acquire a staph infection. They include:
    • Diabetic patients on insulin therapy
    • HIV/AIDS
    • Kidney failure requiring dialysis
    • Skin damage caused by conditions like eczema
    • Respiratory illness like cystic fibrosis
  • Hospitalization: Staph bacteria remain persistent in hospitals, where they attack people with weakened immune systems, burns and surgical wounds.
  • Invasive devices can make a person at risk for developing staph infection. These are devices such as:
    • Dialysis
    • Urinary catheters
    • Feeding tubes
    • Breathing intubation
    • Intravascular catheters
  • Sports: Staph bacteria can spread easily through skin damages by direct skin to skin contact, sharing razors, uniforms or sports equipment. If staph bacteria invades into the blood, a severe form of infection called sepsis may develop leading to septic shock.

9 Are there different types of staph infection?

Yes, there are different types of staph infection. They can infect the skin, gastrointestinal tract, bloodstream, among other parts of the body.

  1. Infection of the skin: Staph infection is most common on the skin. The infections on the skin may range from minor cuts being infected by the bacteria to flesh-eating infections that need serious treatment. One of the worst areas to get this infection is on the face. What is staph infection on face? This is when the infection occurs on the face in the form of rashes and blisters.
  2. Infection of the gastrointestinal tract: The Staphylococcus aureus bacteria can also infect your gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to food poisoning. This usually happens when you eat or drink substances that are contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus toxins such as staph enterotoxin.
  3. Infection in the blood: As mentioned earlier, a staph infection can be life-threatening if it affected certain areas and organs of the body. Two of the most severe cases are the bacteremia and toxic shock syndrome. Bacteremia is a condition wherein the staph infection has already penetrated your blood stream. When this happens, it is easy for the infection to spread to other body parts and infect the other organs of the body through blood circulation. Toxic shock syndrome, on the other hand, is caused by staph enterotoxin type B, but strep bacteria can also result in this condition. 
  4. Infection in the joints: You might be surprised to know that staph infection can also occur in the joints. This is usually referred to as septic arthritis. This is a type of bacterial infection that affects the joint which causes joint damage. In most cases, you can get this infection when the bacteria spreads through your bloodstream and then into your joints. Therefore, there is a chance that you will get this condition if your bloodstream is already infected.

10 What does staph infection look like?

Each case of staph infection may appear differently. If it is a skin-based infection, it would most likely involve red and swollen parts. It can appear as a simple red pimple mark or a very noticeable swollen and itchy patch on your body like an impetigo.

11 Is staph infection contagious?

Not all staph infections are contagious. Impetigo and boils caused by staph infections are highly contagious due to possible skin to skin contact, whereas other types such as toxic shock syndrome, bacteremia, and septic arthritis are not contagious.

If your staph infection appears as an open wound presenting fluids, you can spread the infection.

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