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What is a staph infection ?

It  refers to an infection by the staphylococcus bacteria, which is a kind of pathogen that can be normally found to occur on the skin or the nasal passages of even healthy people. In a majority of the cases, these bacteria do not result in health complications, or can lead to comparatively minor infections of the skin.

However, a staph infection can become life threatening, if the bacteria affect the deeper sections of the body, such as the joints, heart, bloodstream, lungs or bones.

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In the days gone by, staph infections generally used to affect individuals who had a chronic ailment, or were hospitalized or had a compromised immune system. As of now, a large section of otherwise healthy people are getting affected by deadly staph infections. It may also be noted a growing number of staph infections do not respond to normal antibiotic treatment.

Staph infection symptoms

The signs and symptoms of staph infections can vary from minor problems of the skin to endocarditis, a dangerous infection affecting the lining of the cardiac valve.  Hence, the symptoms differ as per the severity and location of staph infections.

  • Skin infections: Staph bacteria can affect the skin in the following ways:
    • Boils: A boil is one of the most commonly occurring effects of staph infection. It refers to pocket of pus which forms in an oil gland or a hair follicle. The skin covering the infected region normally elicits swelling and redness. Rupture of a boil may lead to drainage of pus, an amber colored fluid or blood. Boils usually tend to affect the groin, buttocks or areas under the arms.
    • Cellulitis: It refers to staph infection of the deeper parts of the skin and can lead to swelling and redness of the skin’s surface. Ulcers or sores, or regions that ooze fluids may also occur. The condition generally tends to affect the feet and the lower legs of older adults.
    • Impetigo: It is a contagious form of staph infection, which results in the development of painful rash. It can occur in individuals of all ages, but commonly affects infants and young children. The different forms of impetigo usually result in formation of big blisters that may leak fluids and form a honey-colored scab. The ulcers usually affect the mouth and nose.
    • Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome: The condition is caused due to toxins manufactured due to staph infections. The infection generally occurs in newborns and results in development of a rash, fever and occasionally blisters. The breaking-off, of the blisters makes the upper layer of skin to fall off, leaving a raw, reddish, burn-like surface as a reminder.
    • Toxic shock syndrome: It is a dangerous condition caused due to toxins manufactured by certain strains of the staph bacteria, and associated with skin injuries, use of some kinds of tampons and surgery. It has a sudden onset and features:
      • Vomiting and nausea
      • High fever
      • Seizures
      • Muscle aches
      • Confusion
      • Headache
      • A sunburn-like rash affecting the soles and the palms
      • Bacteremia: The entry of staph bacteria into an individual’s bloodstream is referred to as bacteremia. It is also called blood poisoning. One of the first signs of bacteremia is chronic fever. In this condition, staph infections can spread to deeper areas of the body and affect the following:
        • The muscles and bones
        • The internal glands like the heart, brain or the lungs
        • Surgically implanted gadgets, like heart pacemakers or artificial joints may also experience staph infections
        • Septic arthritis: It is usually caused due to staph infections. The knees and other joints like the hip, ankle, elbow, wrist or shoulder are generally affected, leading to symptoms like:
          • Fever
          • Swelling of a joint
          • Chills or shaking
          • Intense pain of the infected joint

Causes of a staph infection

A lot of individuals are active carriers of the staph bacterium, but are never affected by staph infections. Patients of a staph infection must remember the fact that such an infection may have mostly occurred due to the bacteria present in their bodies.

Since staph infections are contagious, transmission of the staph bacteria from an infected individual to another is quite possible. The staph bacteria are very hardy and hence can even live on inanimate materials like towels, pillowcases, etc. for sufficient periods of time, before getting transferred to the next individual who touches them. The bacteria can survive drying, high salt levels and very high temperatures.

Some of the risk factors that can increase the risk to developing staph infections are as follows:

  • Use of invasive devices and procedures like dialysis, feeding tubes, urinary catheters, intravascular catheters and breathing intubation
  • Increased vulnerability due to impaired immune systems, surgical wounds, burns, or serious underlying health conditions like diabetes can increase the risk to staph infections
  • Contact sports causing abrasions, cuts and sharing of personal items like razors, uniforms, towels etc. can increase the susceptibility to staph infections

Treatment of staph infection

  • Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat a staph infection. Antibiotic resistant strains of staph bacteria are treated with stronger antibiotics.  Cefazolin, clindamycin, nafcillin, dicloxacillin or bactrim are good antibotics that work against non MRSA staph.
  • MRSA infections that result in staph can be treated with two or more antibiotics like rifampin, linezolid, vancomycin and sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim
  • Staph infections resulting from the use of an invasive device, requires immediate removal of that gadget
  • Skin infections that results in a sore, requires drainage of fluids accumulated in the wound, via an incision. If the tissue does not stop shedding staph, it may need surgical intervention.  Pus drainage is the most important surgical treatment method, but in some cases, the source of infection like heart valves, intravenous lines, pacemakers or artificial grafts, may need to be removed surgically.

Staph Infection Pictures

MRSA Staph infection

Staph infection in nose

Staph infection on face

Staph infection on leg

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