Staph Infection

What is a Staph infection?

Staphylococcus, or Staph, refers to a group of bacteria. The most common type of Staph causing infection is called Staphylococcus aureus. This type often causes skin infections like impetigo and boils. Staph can also cause infection of the deeper skin layers (called cellulitis), bone infections, and muscle or joint infections. Rarely, Staph may cause other serious infections, such as abscesses, pneumonia, and heart infections.

How does it occur?

Staph aureus can live harmlessly in the nose and throat of many people. It can cause infection when it gets into skin through small cuts or scrapes, or through skin which may be affected by conditions such as eczema.

What are the symptoms?

For common skin infections like impetigo or skin abscess (boils), symptoms may include:

  • a small, well-defined area of swelling and redness (similar to a pimple)
  • pain
  • pus coming from the infected area
  • yellowish crusting of the area.

Deeper skin infection (cellulitis) can result in:

  • a larger area of swelling, pain, warmth, and redness
  • fever.

How is it diagnosed?

Most skin infections can be diagnosed by your healthcare provider based on the symptoms and the way the infected area looks. At times, a culture of the pus from an infected area can help determine which type of bacteria caused the infection. Tests can help determine the best antibiotic to fight the infection.

How is it treated?

For many skin infections, draining the pus from the area is all that is needed. Mild infections on the surface of the skin may be treated with a topical medicine put on the skin. For infections such as impetigo and cellulitis, you may need to take an antibiotic by mouth for 1 to 2 weeks. More serious infections may need to be treated in the hospital with IV antibiotics.

Treating Staph infections has become more difficult in recent years. Bacteria are starting to become resistant to the more common antibiotics used. These resistant bacteria are known as MRSA, which stands for "methicillin-resistant Staph aureus." Your provider may want to have the pus tested to check if the infection is caused by MRSA. If it is a MRSA, different antibiotics can be given to treat the infection.

How long will it last?

Impetigo usually gets better within 2 weeks. Impetigo may be treated with topical or oral medicines. Boils will improve within a week if the pus is drained. For deeper tissue infections, such as bone, joint, muscle, lung, or heart infections, your child will be hospitalized. These infections usually improve within 3 or 4 days of starting antibiotics. However, deeper tissue infections can be very slow to completely heal.

How can I help prevent Staph infections?

Practice good hygiene:

  • Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed. Apply antibiotic ointment 3 times per day until the cut or scrape is healed.
  • Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.
  • Do not share personal items such as towels or razors.

Drug-resistant Staph infections can become a problem for some children. Treatment of a skin infection does not always get rid of Staph bacteria in the nose or throat. Even if all of the bacteria were removed from your child during treatment, because other family members may have the staph bacteria in their noses and throats, your child may continue to get the bacteria from contact with family.

Taking medicine for longer periods of time can help remove drug-resistant Staph bacteria from all members of your family. Talk to your healthcare provider about these treatments.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call immediately if:

  • Your child has chills.
  • Your child is in severe pain.
  • Your child refuses to walk.
  • Your child has an extensive rash associated with a Staph infection
  • Your child is extremely tired or sleepy.
  • Your child has a fever lasting more than 5 days.

Call during office hours if:

  • You notice the infection spreading.
  • Your child is not responding to antibiotic treatment within 3 to 4 days.

Written by William Muller, MD.
Published by RelayHealth.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.