Staphylococcus | Primary Care | Loyola Medicine

Staph infection (Staphylococcus)

Overview and Facts about Staphylococcus

Staphylococcus is a type of bacteria that can cause a host of potentially harmful infections in the body. These infections, known collectively as staph infections, can differ in severity and symptoms depending on the location of the infection.

Staph infections are often categorized as skin and soft tissue infections and invasive infections.

Skin and soft tissue staph infections are the most common type and are usually relatively minor. Invasive infections affect internal organs and can lead to serious complications.

Staph infections are treated with antibiotics, however, some strains have developed resistance to a number of these medications. An untreated staph infection can become life-threatening, therefore, immediate medical attention is necessary. 

Signs and Symptoms of Staphylococcus

Types and symptoms of skin and soft tissue staph infections include:

  • Boils: red, swollen pockets of pus formed in hair and oil glands, typically on the buttocks, face and armpits
  • Cellulitis: infection occurring in the skin and also in the soft tissue and fat which can cause fever and nausea
  • Impetigo: painful, oozing blisters that form a yellow crust on the skin

Types and symptoms of invasive staph infections:

  • Endocarditis: infection and inflammation of the heart causing chest pain, shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat
  • Septicemia: infection of the bloodstream that leads to fever, low blood pressure and, in severe cases, loss of consciousness
  • Toxic shock syndrome: a potentially life-threatening form of septicemia causing muscle aches, fever, rash and shock

Causes and Risk Factors of Staphylococcus

Staphylococcus germs are present on the skin of a quarter of the population and rarely result in infection.

Staph infections are contracted through open wounds, including minor cuts and by eating contaminated food. The bacteria can survive a wide range of conditions and environments.

They can also be passed to people by touching clothing, blankets or other objects. Certain strains of the bacteria have developed antibiotic resistance and spread more easily. 

Risk factors include medical conditions or treatments that reduce a person’s immunity, having an implanted medical device and hospitalization.

Due to the presence of blood, open wounds and reduced immunity, the risk of contamination and infection in hospitals is high.

Tests and Diagnosis of Staphylococcus

Staph infections are usually diagnosed by a primary care physician in response to the development of symptoms.

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and take your patient history to include information on symptoms, pre-existing disease and recent hospitalizations or medical procedures.

The diagnosis is usually confirmed with a tissue or nasal secretion sample.

Diagnosing an invasive staph infection requires additional testing and may include a blood test, echocardiogram and other imaging tests.

Treatment and Care of Staphylococcus

Most skin and soft tissue staph infections are treatable with oral antibiotics. Draining the infected area is sometimes necessary.

Invasive staph infections are more difficult to treat and sometimes require a prolonged regimen of injected antibiotics.

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, strains of staph infection have developed resistance to many antibiotics and require more intensive treatment.