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Staph Infection Fact Sheet

About Staph Infections:

Staphylococcus (Staph) refers to a group of bacteria that can cause infection of any tissue of the body. Staph infections range from mild to fatal. Many strains of Staph Infections can infect humans, but most infections are caused by common strains that can be found in the nose and on the skin of up to one third of healthy adults without causing infection. However, damage to the skin or other injury may allow the bacteria to overcome the protective mechanisms of the body, leading to infection.

  • Anyone can develop a Staph infection, although certain individuals are at greater risk, including newborn infants, breastfeeding women, and people with chronic conditions such as eczema and related skin conditions, diabetes, cancer, immune deficiency, kidney dialysis, poor circulation, and chronic lung disease.
  • People who inject drugs, have surgical incisions or indwelling catheters also have an increased risk of developing Staph infections.

Types of Staph Infection:

  • Staph infection of the skin is usually localized. The affected area may be red, swollen, painful, and drain pus.
    • Staph infections of the skin can progress to impetigo (crusting of the skin), cellulitis (inflammation of the connective tissue under the skin) or an abscess. Breast abscesses can release bacteria into the mother's milk.
    • Minor skin infections are usually treated with an antibiotic ointment or, occasionally, with oral antibiotics. Abscesses must be drained. Skin infections should be dressed if they are draining to prevent transmission or spreading.
  • If the bacteria enter the bloodstream, they can spread to other organs including the lungs, heart, and bones.
    • Staph sepsis (widespread infection of the bloodstream) is a leading cause of shock (severe low blood pressure), primarily due to toxins released by the bacteria. Toxic shock syndrome was originally described in women using tampons.
  • Staph food poisoning is an illness of the bowels with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, caused by eating food contaminated with toxins produced by Staph bacteria.
    • Symptoms usually develop within a few hours and last for one to three days. Since this is due to a toxin, these patients are not contagious.
  • More serious infections are treated with intravenous antibiotics. Increasingly, Staph is becoming resistant to many antibiotics.


  • The term Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, also known as MRSA, is used to indicate strains of Staph that have become resistant to methicillin and similar antibiotics.
  • Until recently, MRSA was confined to hospitals and other health facilities where antibiotics were in common use to treat severe infections, but MRSA has increasingly spread to the general community.
  • Although MRSA infections can be mild, especially if confined to the skin, deeper MRSA infections can be difficult to treat and can progress to life-threatening infections. Some strains are now resistant to “drugs of last resort” such as vancomycin.
  • MRSA is almost always spread by direct physical contact of infected people or contaminated objects and not through the air. MRSA can be carried in the nose or skin of some individuals and not cause infection, but still can be passed on to others.


  • There is no vaccine against Staph at this point.
  • Because the bacteria are found everywhere in the environment, prevention of infection requires attention to care and hygiene.
  • The primary factor in prevention of infection is careful hand washing, avoiding close skin contact with infected individuals, and proper care of skin wounds. These can all reduce the likelihood of Staph infections, including community-acquired MRSA.
  • Individuals with skin infections, even minor, should seek prompt medical care.
  • Menstruating women should either avoid tampons or change them frequently.
  • Proper food handling can reduce the risk of food poisoning from Staph and other organisms.
Last updated on Fri, 03/27/2015 - 16:32