Staph Infection (Non-MRSA)

Staph Infection (Non-MRSA)

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are
often called “staph.” They are common germs that can cause a variety of problems. These
range from mild skin infections to severe infections of your skin, deep tissues, lungs,
bones, and blood. Most healthy adults normally carry staph on their nose and skin.
Typically, they do not cause disease. But if your skin is broken or opened, staph can
enter your body and cause infection. Staph infections often get better on their own or are
easily treated with antibiotics. But it is becoming more common to see bacteria that are
resistant to antibiotics, or hard to kill with them. This sheet tells you more about staph
infections and what you can do to prevent them.

How does staph spread?

Closeup of lower face and neck. Staph infection sores on nose and near mouth.

Staph spreads through skin-to-skin
contact with an infected person. It also spreads through contact with contaminated
objects, such as shared towels, household items, or athletic equipment.

Who is at risk for a staph
infection?

Anyone can get a staph infection.
Certain risk factors make it more likely, including:

  • Living or having close
    contact with someone who has staph

  • Having an open wound or
    sore

  • Playing contact sports or
    sharing towels or athletic equipment

  • A current or recent stay in a
    hospital or long-term care facility

  • A recent surgery or wound
    treatment

  • Having a feeding tube or
    catheter in your body

  • Receiving kidney dialysis

  • Having a weak immune system
    or serious illness

  • Injecting illegal drugs

What conditions can be caused by a staph
infection?

Staph infections usually start in
your skin. They sometimes appear as small red bumps that look like pimples or spider
bites. These sores can turn into abscesses. These are pus-filled areas of infection.
Staph infections can also spread deeper into your body, causing 1 or more of these:

  • Infections in bones
    (osteomyelitis), muscles, and other tissues

  • Lung infection
    (pneumonia)

  • Infection in a wound from a
    surgery

  • Infection in the bloodstream
    (bacteremia)

  • Infection of the lining
    of your heart and your heart valves (endocarditis)

  • Illness caused by the toxins
    staph produces (toxic shock syndrome)

  • Staph skin infection causing
    blisters and raw skin (scalded skin syndrome)

How is a staph infection
diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider can often
diagnose staph infection based on how it looks. With a more serious infection, testing
may be done. Often, a sample of blood or urine is taken. A sample of fluid leaking from
a wound, mucus from the lungs (sputum), or infected tissue can also be used. The sample
is sent to a lab and tested for staph.

How is a staph infection treated?

A minor skin infection is often
treated with warm soaks and basic wound care, including a bandage. If the infection is
more serious, an antibiotic may be prescribed, either as a pill or an ointment. For an
even more severe infection your provider may prescribe a more powerful antibiotic given
intravenously. If you have a pocket of pus (abscess), your provider may drain it.

How can I prevent staph
infections?

To reduce the spread of staph
infections, keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered until they heal. Avoid contact with
the wounds or bandages of others. Don’t share personal items such as towels, razors,
clothing, or athletic equipment. Keep your hands clean. Your best option is washing your
hands with soap and water for at least 15 to 30 seconds. If that’s not possible, or if
your hands aren’t visibly dirty, use a hand gel that contains at least 60% alcohol. 

Tips for good handwashing:

  • Use water (either cold or warm is fine) and plenty of soap. Work
    up a good lather.
  • Clean your whole hand, under your nails, between your fingers,
    and up your wrists.
  • Wash for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Don’t just wipe. Scrub
    well.
  • Rinse, letting the water run down your fingers, not up your
    wrists.
  • Dry your hands well. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet
    and open the door.

Tips for using alcohol-based hand gels:

  • Use enough gel to get your hands fully wet.
  • Rub your hands together briskly. Clean the backs of your hands,
    the palms, between your fingers, and up your wrists.
  • Rub until the gel is gone and your hands are fully dry.

Taking antibiotics correctly

You may have heard of MRSA
(methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). This is a type of staph bacteria that is
hard to kill (resistant) with many antibiotics that used to be effective against it.
This means the bacteria can’t be treated with some antibiotics (such as methicillin)
that work on other types of staph. But, other effective antibiotics are available.

Resistant bacteria can be picked up
from others, or can develop when antibiotics are not prescribed or taken correctly. This
includes when they are taken longer than needed, not taken long enough, or taken when
they’re not needed. This is why your healthcare provider may not prescribe antibiotics
unless he or she is certain they are needed. It’s also why you must take antibiotic
medicine exactly as your healthcare provider tells you. This means not skipping doses,
and taking the medicine until it’s finished, even if you’re feeling better.