June 06, 2023

What Is a Staph Infection?

staph infection bacteria

Staphylococcus bacteria cause staph infections. The condition generally responds well to treatment, but some people, like those with weakened immune systems, may be at higher risk of developing staph infections and take longer to recover from them.

Types of Staph Infections

Staphylococcus bacteria can affect the body in many ways, causing:

  • Staph infection on the skin that can produce open sores
  • Staph infection in the bones
  • Staph infection in the blood (bacteremia)
  • Food poisoning
  • Pneumonia
  • Staph infection of the heart lining (endocarditis)
  • Toxic shock syndrome (TSS)

Staph Infection Symptoms

Staph infection symptoms vary based on the infection site. 

  • Food poisoning symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and potential dehydration.

    Skin infections produce bumps or sores that may be swollen and painful, contain fluid like pus, and be crusty. They can also discolor the skin and make it feel warm (cellulitis). 

  • Pneumonia causes cough, high fever, chills, shortness of breath, and possibly chest pain. 

    Endocarditis produces flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, chills, shortness of breath, and fast heartbeat. It may also cause the arms and legs to retain fluid.

  • Bone infections can cause swelling, warmth, pain, and skin discoloration in the affected area. Fever and chills can also occur. 
  • TSS causes high fever, a sudden drop in blood pressure, confusion, and diarrhea. In some cases, a rash similar to sunburn develops. 

What Causes Staph Infections?

Staph infections occur when bacteria gain access to the body. This can happen if you consume food containing bacteria or if bacteria on the skin’s surface finds its way in through a wound like a cut, pimple, or sore that you’ve scratched open, etc.

Staph infections are contagious. Staph bacteria can be picked up from contaminated surfaces or passed from person to person. For example, if you use someone else's razor with bacteria on the blade and cut yourself when shaving, you could develop a staph infection on your face.

You may have a higher staph infection risk if you:

  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Play sports that involve skin-to-skin contact
  • Are on dialysis
  • Have diabetes, eczema, cancer, lung disease, or other chronic conditions
  • Have a catheter or breathing tube
  • Recently had surgery
  • Inject recreational drugs

Staph Infection Diagnosis and Treatment

Doctors diagnose staph infections by asking questions about your symptoms, doing a physical exam, and testing your blood or affected skin if appropriate. It’s important to tell your doctor promptly if you develop symptoms of staph infection so they can start your treatment and prevent the infection from worsening. 

Staph infection treatments include oral antibiotics, ointments or creams, and intravenous antibiotics. In some cases of bone infection, surgery may be required.

MRSA: Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus

One type of staph bacteria is particularly difficult to treat. It’s called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. While it’s resistant to many antibiotics, some can eliminate it, and doctors can prescribe those if initial attempts at addressing the condition fail. 

How Long Do Staph Infections Last?

The duration of a staph infection varies based on the type and how severe it is. For example, food poisoning typically resolves within a day or two. Staph infections on the skin also typically clear up within a few days, though your doctor may provide direction on how to care for healing skin after a staph infection that you need to follow for a full recovery. 

Systemic staph infections (in the lungs, heart, bloodstream, etc.) can take weeks or months to resolve. These types of infections can also, in rare instances, cause sepsis — a condition where the immune system has an exaggerated response to the bacterial invasion.

Contact Your Baptist Health Primary Care Doctor About Staph Infections

If you think you may have a staph infection, contact your primary care physician right away. They can diagnose your condition and prescribe treatment that keeps the infection from worsening and ultimately resolves it.

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