Ingrown hair staph infection

MRSA Skin Infections: Frequently Asked Questions

MRSA skin infections are hard to spot, often misdiagnosed as heat rash, razor burn, spider bites, ingrown hair or pimples. Here are answers to frequently asked questions about MRSA.

Q. What does MRSA look like under a microscope?

A. Staphylococcus aureus is Greek for “golden grapes,” which is what the bacteria look like under a microscope, as shown here. Staph and its resistant form, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) look the same.

Q. I understand that so-called “turf burns” athletes suffer after sliding on artificial turf are more prone to MRSA infections. What does a MRSA-infected turf burn look like?

A. Because MRSA infections are “opportunistic,” slide or turf burns give the bacteria a place to enter the body. In this wound, the top abrasions near the knee are becoming infected with MRSA, as seen by the pustules.

Q. Why is the sharing of razors by athletes discouraged as a way of preventing the spread of MRSA?

A. Any skin cut or abrasion, including nicks from shaving, can become infected with MRSA. Here’s a photo of a shaven chin beginning to become infected with MRSA. At this early stage, MRSA can be mistaken for razor burn or fever blisters. This is one reason athletes are encouraged not to share razors.

Q. I have been told that MRSA is often mistaken for heat rash. Is this true, and, if so, how do you know it’s MRSA?

A. It is true that, in its very early stages, a MRSA infection can appear as red bumps (as shown here), which are often confused for heat rash. The difference is the significant pain associated with the “rash” and how quickly it gets worse.

Q. I understand that MRSA infections are often mistaken in their initial stages for an ingrown hair or pimple. How can you tell it is a MRSA infection?

A. This image shows perhaps the most common initial stage of MRSA. The difference between an ingrown hair and MRSA at this point is that MRSA causes disproportionately more pain than would be expected from the size of the affected area. Again, this is shown in an area that has been shaven, potentially providing a knick in the skin for the infection to enter.

Q. My son has what looks like an infected spider bite. Could it be MRSA?

A. This image shows an early stage MRSA infection as it begins to necrotize the tissue around it. It is at this stage that a MRSA infection is most commonly misdiagnosed as a spider bite. Because spider bites are very rare, the recent trend is for health care professionals to treat “spider bites” as MRSA, unless a dead brown recluse spider can be produced.

Q. Is a MRSA skin infection serious?

A. A MRSA skin infection can be a life-threatening illness. Want proof? Here’s the story of Chris Bettinski, a wrestler who nearly lost his leg to MRSA, in his own words:

“At first, I thought it was just a bug bite, or maybe an ingrown hair on my calf. A couple of days later the “bite” turned into a baseball-sized swelling and started to throb. Then, I was admitted into the hospital with a leg swollen to twice its normal size. A day later my wife was told by the doctor that the infection (MRSA) may necessitate the amputation of my leg, and, if it reached my internal organs, it could kill me. It was touch and go for a while. Luckily, I’m back to normal, I wish I could say the same for my leg.”

Grant Doornbos, MD, is a resident in the department of anesthesiology at the University of Louisville Medical Center and a former NCAA Division I wrestler.

I recently discovered what seems to be MRSA near my vagina. I’m too scared to tell my mom and I don’t have insurance to go to the doctor. What do I do?

If you have a skin irritation near your vagina that looks like a boil or ingrown hair that’s red, swollen and/or draining pus, it could be caused from a staph infection. However, not all staph infections are MRSA infections, and it’s hard to know the bacteria responsible for the infection without seeing a health care provider. MRSA infections are not sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but some STIs can cause similar symptoms, so it can be tricky to know what’s going on. Your best bet is to tell your mom and see a health care provider. Your mom will likely understand and want to make sure you get the care you need. Most hospitals will not deny medical care to those who need it – regardless of whether or not you have insurance.

MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. Only staph aureus infections that are resistant to certain antibiotics are called MRSA infections. These infections are very serious and if not properly treated MRSA infections can affect your blood, lungs, heart, bones, and joints.

Most of the time MRSA is spread by coming in contact with another person who has a skin infection or simply the things that the person has used, such as a towel or razor. Typically, MRSA is spread in hospitals and other health care facilities from person to person if equipment or surfaces that people come in contact with are not disinfected properly. Other common places MRSA can be spread is in gyms, dorms, daycare centers and other close living conditions.

The only way to diagnose MRSA is to have a health care provider (HCP) look at the affected skin or sore and send a sample of the pus or discharge to a lab. If the results show that you have a MRSA infection, your HCP will likely have you take a special antibiotic and if necessary, the sore will be drained.

It’s important NOT to treat yourself! This means you shouldn’t squeeze, pop or try to drain the sore or affected area. You also shouldn’t use disinfectants to clean it. The best thing you can do is to cover the area with a bandage, wash your hands well with soap and water, and see a health care provider.

The best way to prevent MRSA infections is to practice good hygiene:

  1. Wash your hands often with soap and water. When you can’t use soap and water, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer.
  2. Make sure to take care of any cuts, scrapes or sore by keeping them clean and covered until they have healed
  3. Do NOT share personal items such as towels, or razors
  4. Never touch anyone’s wound or sore

Invasive staph infections are usually more severe.

Many people carry staph bacteria either on the surface of their skin or in their nose, and in most cases it does not cause any problems. A staph infection occurs when the staphylococcus bacteria gets inside the body.

Invasive staph infections could be life threatening. If you have symptoms of an invasive staph infection, see your doctor as soon as possible or call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

People more at risk of an invasive staph infection include those with diabetes who use insulin, HIV/AIDS, kidney failure requiring dialysis, weakened immune systems, cancer, especially those who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, skin damage (for example, from eczema, insect bites or minor cuts) and respiratory illnesses. There is also a higher risk if you have been in hospital, have an invasive medical device, play contact sports or eat food that has not been prepared in sanitary conditions.

Symptoms of invasive staph infections


A staph infection in your lungs can cause pneumonia. You may have pneumonia if you have:

  • difficulty breathing
  • a rapid heart beat
  • a temperature of 38°C or over
  • been feeling generally unwell

You might also have some chest pain.

Read more about pneumonia here.

Septic arthritis

Septic arthritis occurs when staphylococcal bacteria infect a joint. It is more common in people with a low immune system.

You may have septic arthritis if you are experiencing:

  • pain and swelling in your joint
  • stiffness
  • red and tender skin around the joint
  • a temperature over 38°C
  • chills
  • a loss of movement in your joint


Sepsis is also known as blood poisoning. The condition is a medical emergency and occurs when staph bacteria infects the bloodstream.

If you are concerned that you or someone else has symptoms of sepsis, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

You may have sepsis if you are feeling very unwell and:

  • have a temperature
  • have a rapid heartbeat
  • have trouble breathing
  • are dizzy
  • are confused or disorientated
  • are drowsy
  • have reduced urination


Osteomyelitis is an infection within the bone. While it can affect any bone, it is more common in the arms and legs in children, and in the back and pelvis in adults.

Osteomyelitis can be difficult to detect, but you may have it if you have:

  • a temperature
  • nausea
  • severe bone pain
  • red, warm tender skin at the site of the pain
  • restricted movement of a joint

Read more about osteomyelitis here.

Toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome is very rare and occurs when staph bacteria enters the bloodstream and releases poisons. In some people these poisons can lead to organ and tissue damage. Toxic Shock Syndrome can affect anybody and can be associated with the use of tampons.

You may have Toxic shock syndrome if you are feeling very unwell and:

  • have a temperature
  • are vomiting
  • are feeling faint

You may also:

  • have a skin rash resembling sunburn
  • have diarrhoea
  • feel confused


Endocarditis occurs when staph bacteria infects one of the valves inside the heart. It is a serious and life-threatening condition. It is more common in people who have problems with their heart valves, but it can happen to anyone.

You may have endocarditis if you develop the symptoms below, either gradually over several weeks or quickly over a few days:

  • a temperature accompanied by chills and night sweats
  • muscle aches and pains
  • shortness of breath
  • unexplained weight loss
  • coughing
  • headache
  • low blood pressure
  • dizziness standing up due to low blood pressure
  • weakness and extreme tiredness

Food poisoning

Food poisoning could occur when you eat food containing staph bacteria or the toxins they produce. It usually develops fairly quickly after eating contaminated food. You may have staphylococcal food poisoning if you:

  • feel nauseous and vomit
  • have stomach cramps
  • have diarrhoea

How do I avoid getting an invasive staph infection?

If you are at risk of developing an invasive staph infection, it is important to have a healthy lifestyle — a healthy diet, regular exercise, minimising alcohol and avoiding smoking and illicit drugs.

Washing your hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom, before and after preparing food and after being in a crowded area can also reduce your risk of developing the condition.

When should I get help?

Invasive staph infections could be life threatening. If you have symptoms of an invasive staph infection, see your doctor as soon as possible or call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Why sepsis from a staph infection causes organ failure

Scientists have known for some time that one of the reasons a staph infection is so deadly is that the bacteria send out a toxin, known as Alpha Toxin (AT), which quickly worsens sepsis. University of Calgary scientists at the Cumming School of Medicine’s (CSM) Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases have discovered the most important target of the toxin and how to neutralize the danger.

“For years, we’ve been looking at the effects of the toxin on cells inside a test tube, but we really didn’t know what was happening inside the body at the height of an infection,” says Dr. Bas Surewaard, PhD, a postdoc in the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology and first author of the study.

Using a process that allows scientists to see what’s happening inside living animals, called intravital microscopy, researchers discovered that the toxin causes platelets to respond abnormally in mice. Platelets’ primary role is to help stop bleeding in mammals after injury. What’s relatively unknown is that platelets also play a role in the body’s defenses against bacteria. Normally, platelets coat bacteria to prevent the spread of a microbe throughout the patient. However, during sepsis caused by staph infection, as the amount of toxin in the bloodstream increases, the platelets aggregate to form clumps. Those clumps deposit in the liver and kidneys, causing serious damage and eventually organ failure.

“Once you understand exactly how an infection is impacting the body, you can target treatments to mitigate the infection so that the body can begin to heal,” says Dr. Paul Kubes, PhD, professor in the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology and director of the Snyder Institute. “We knew clots were forming in the organs during sepsis from staph infection. Now we know where and why these clots are forming.”

Next, the team wanted to know whether an antibody that targets the toxin could be effective in preventing platelets from clumping. The researchers started working with MedImmune. The drug company is conducting a phase ll clinical trial where an Alpha Toxin antibody that they have developed is given to intensive care unit patients prone to develop pneumonia caused by staph due to long-term use of a ventilator. Early indications are the antibody is effective in preventing lung damage.

“When we introduced the antibody to the bloodstream of the mice during sepsis, we saw an immediate reduction in the amount of clotting,” says Surewaard. “A single dose of the antibody reduced liver damage by 50 per cent. By knocking out the toxin, the platelets could begin flowing in the blood stream again.”

The findings, published in Cell Host & Microbe, help explain why some people who are taking antibiotics to kill staph infection still die from sepsis, because the antibiotics do not neutralize the toxin.

“Knowing how the toxin created by staph target platelets, we can now start looking at other bacteria that cause sepsis to see whether we can uncover a similar pattern and find antibodies that can be effective in those cases,” says Kubes.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) supported this research, along with a grant from MedImmune.

Paul Kubes, PhD, is a professor in the departments of departments of Physiology & Pharmacology, Medicine, Critical Care Medicine, and Microbiology, Immunology & Infectious Diseases, director of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases and an associate member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

What are Staphylococcal infections?

What are Staphylococcal infections?

  • Staphylococcal infections are a group of infections caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus.
  • The most common of this group of bacteria is Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Staphylococcal infections are spread by skin-to-skin contact and often start by infecting small cuts in the skin.
  • However there is a wide spectrum of Staphylococcal infections, both in terms of severity and how easily they can be treated.

What are the symptoms of Staphylococcal infections?

  • Staphylococcal infections occur when the bacterium gets into the body through a break or cut in the skin.
  • Depending on how far the bacterium gets into the body, Staphylococcal infections are usually divided into two groups:
    • skin and soft tissue infections
    • invasive infections.

Skin and soft tissue infections

  • Skin and soft tissue Staphylococcal infections include:
    • Boils: painful, red bumps on the skin of the neck, face, thighs, armpits and buttocks
    • Impetigo: a highly contagious bacterial skin infection causing painful sores and painless blisters
    • Cellulitis: a bacterial infection of the deep layer of the skin and the layer of fat and soft tissue beneath the skin. This can cause patients to feel feverish and nauseous.

Invasive infections

  • Invasive Staphylococcal infections include:
    • Sepsis: also known as blood poisoning, this happens when Staphylococcal infections enter the blood stream causing an overwhelming immune response.
      • Symptoms include fever, fast heartbeat, low blood pressure, diarrhoea, pale and cold skin, and sometimes loss of consciousness. Sepsis is a medical emergency.
      • Toxic shock syndrome is a form of severe sepsis. It is a rare but life-threatening infection caused by Staphylococcus aureus releasing a toxic substance. It causes a high fever, a dramatic drop in blood pressure (shock), dizziness and confusion.
    • Septic arthritis: a condition where a joint becomes infected with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria causing joint swelling, pain and fever.
    • Endocarditis: this is when Staphylococcus infects the internal structures of the heart (for example, the heart valves), causing inflammation.
      • Symptoms can develop gradually over the space of many weeks, or quickly over the space of a few days.
      • Symptoms include chest pain, coughs, fatigue, shortness of breath, fever and unexplained weight loss.

How do you treat Staphylococcal infections

  • Skin and soft tissue infections are generally mild and straightforward to treat with antibiotic tablets or creams.
  • The more invasive the infection, the harder it is to treat.
  • Once the bacteria penetrate the skin and enter the blood, they can multiply rapidly, releasing toxins and creating considerable damage to organs and tissues.
  • In these incidences doctors may have to resort to antibiotic injections.

A plate of Staphylococcus aureus

Image credit: User:Valugi – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What are the challenges in treating Staphylococcal infections?

  • Many strains of Staphylococcal bacteria have developed antibiotic resistance.
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as MRSA, is a type of Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to a number of antibiotics including methicillin.

What is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)?

  • MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a form of staphylococcal infection that is resistant to methicillin. It is often resistant to other commonly used antibiotics as well.
  • Because of its antibiotic resistance, MRSA can be very difficult to treat and often spreads quickly in contained spaces such as hospitals, nursing homes and even gyms and homeless shelters.
  • It is sometimes referred to as a ‘superbug’.
  • Hospitalised patients are at the highest risk of getting an MRSA infection because they are frequently in contact with other people who are likely to have MRSA.
  • Many hospitalised patients are older and weaker making them more susceptible to developing an MRSA infection that could become life-threatening.
  • In general, the perfect environments in which MRSA can spread are places which have poor hygiene, large numbers of people passing through and lots of skin-to-skin contact. These conditions mean the bacteria can be easily transferred from person to person.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Image credit: Genome Research Limited

Is MRSA always harmful?

  • Many of us live with Staphylococcus aureus and MRSA without any problems. Many people have S. aureus living in their nose or on their skin.
  • Most people who acquire MRSA become silent carriers of the bacterium and do not exhibit any symptoms.
  • Only a small proportion of these carriers go on to develop infection if the bacteria enter their body through an area of broken skin, such as a wound.
  • MRSA causes more problems than regular S. aureus because it is resistant to antibiotics commonly used to treat Staphylococcal infections. This makes it much more difficult to get rid of.

How can the spread of MRSA be prevented?

  • MRSA infections have put a huge strain on healthcare systems.
  • In recent years, increased awareness of the infection has allowed healthcare professionals to manage it more effectively.
  • Prevention techniques include:
    • washing hands before and after visiting someone in a care home or hospital to avoid the spread of any bacteria that may be on the hands (MRSA can be spread by skin-to-skin contact)
    • screening patients for MRSA before they are admitted to hospital for an operation. This is most often done with swabs taken from the nose and groin, or by testing a blood, urine, tissue or spit sample.
    • putting all disposable items, such as dressings and gloves, into the appropriate bins promptly to avoid cross-contamination
    • a policy of patients being encouraged to speak to their nurse or doctor if they are worried about hygiene standards on a ward.

How is MRSA treated?

  • To identify the best course of treatment for an individual with an MRSA infection the doctor will assess the type, site and severity of the infection.
  • They will also find out which antibiotics that the specific strain of MRSA is resistant and sensitive to.
  • Minor skin or soft tissue infections such as boils may only need to be treated superficially, with a technique called ‘incision and drainage’.
  • This is where the surface of a boil is broken open with a sterile scalpel, sometimes under a local anaesthetic, and the pus is drained out, relieving pressure and pain for the patient.
  • Despite being resistant to a number of different antibiotics, some strains of MRSA can be treated effectively with other antibiotics or a combination of antibiotics.
  • These antibiotics are often given as injections and may be given for up to six weeks, depending on the severity of the infection.

This page was last updated on 2015-06-19

Staph Infection

What is a staphylococcal infection?

Staphylococcus aureus, or “staph,” are common bacteria that normally live on the skin. The bacteria also live harmlessly in the nasal passages of roughly 30 percent of the U.S. population. Staph can cause infection when they enter the skin through a cut or sore. Infection can also occur when the bacteria move inside of the body through a catheter or breathing tube.

Staphylococcus aureus, or S. epidermidis, can cause staphylococcal meningitis, an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord caused by; it usually develops as a complication of a surgical procedure or a blood-borne infection.


Depending on the extent and severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend the following tests:

  • A skin biopsy and culture from the infected site

  • Culture of the drainage (fluid) from the infection, to see which organism grows in it

  • Blood culture

  • Sputum culture through coughing or bronchoscopy if pneumonia is present or suspected

  • Urine culture if a urinary tract infection is present or suspected


Treatment depends on the type of staph infection. Some require intravenous antibiotics. For a local Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) skin infection, draining the abscess at the doctor’s office is usually the only treatment needed. Few antibiotics are available to treat more serious MRSA infections. These include vancomycin (Vancocin, Vancoled), trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim, Bactrim DS, Septra, Septra DS) and linezolid (Zyvox).

Note: It is critically important to finish all doses of antibiotics you have been given, even if you feel better before the final dose. Unfinished doses can lead to development of drug resistance in the bacteria.

Recognizing a Staph Infection

By Jim / July 5, 2017 / Health News / 0 Comments

Billions of people carry a form of Staphylococcus bacteria; however, it is typically harmless when it stays in the right place. People carry it in their mouths, on their skin or in their nasal cavities without any reaction.

If staph gets where it isn’t supposed to … such as eating contaminated food or entering your body through a cut or scrape, it can cause serious conditions. It’s important to recognize the symptoms that might lead to unwanted medical conditions.

  • Food Poisoning – Perhaps the most recognizable staph infection because most people have experienced some form of this during their life. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Severe flu-like symptoms – High fever, muscle aches, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, vomiting are all symptoms associated with Staph. If staph enters the blood stream you may develop toxic shock syndrome or bacteremia.
  • Blisters or boils – This common symptom is many times mistaken for an insect bite. These painful blisters and boils may erupt anywhere on the skin on any body part.
  • Painful joints – Severe pain in the joints, especially the knees may be a sign of septic arthritis. This condition is a result of staph infecting a joint and may result in swelling as well.

Staph is no joke. It can lead to serious consequences. If any of the above conditions are coupled with a high fever, seek medical help immediately. At Emergency One, we can diagnose your symptoms and make the correct call when it comes to your health.

Tags: bacteria, blisters, boils, fever Emergency One, food poisoning, joint pain, Staph, Staph infection, Staphylococcus

Staphylococcal infections

The symptoms of staphylococcal infections vary depending on the type of infection you have.

Staphylococcal skin infections

Staph infections most commonly affect the skin. Symptoms for the most common types of staphylococcal skin infections are outlined below.


A boil is a red, painful, lump on the skin that usually develops on the neck, face, armpit or buttocks. When a boil first forms, it appears as a swollen, painful red lump. As it grows, yellowish-white pus builds up at the centre of the boil.

As tempting as it may be, it is important not to squeeze a boil because it can lead to complications.

In most cases, the boil will eventually burst within a few weeks and the pus will drain away, leaving the skin to heal.

Read more about the symptoms of boils.

An abscess is a painful collection of pus that may appear as a lump under the surface of the skin or an open break in the skin.

The abscess may get larger and more painful as the infection continues and more pus is produced.
Staphylococcal infections can cause skin abscesses on the head and neck, limbs, underarms and torso.

Read more about the symptoms of a skin abscess.


A hair follicle is a small sac in the skin that a hair grows out of. If a hair follicle becomes infected with staphylococcus bacteria then itchy, white bumps filled with pus can appear.

If the infection is deep in the skin, the infected hair follicle may develop into a boil (see above) and become more painful.


Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial skin infection that mainly affects children. It does not affect the deeper skin layers. There are two types of impetigo:

  • non-bullous impetigo – which causes sores that quickly rupture, leaving a yellow-brown crust
  • bullous impetigo – which causes large, painless, fluid-filled blisters (bullae)

The sores and blisters caused by both types of impetigo are usually very itchy. However, you should avoid scratching them because it can spread the infection to other parts of your body and the bacteria easily spread through close contact.

Read more about symptoms of impetigo.


Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layer of the skin (dermis) and the layer of fat and soft tissues (the subcutaneous tissues) that lie underneath the skin.

Cellulitis causes your skin to become:

  • red
  • painful
  • hot
  • swollen
  • tender
  • blistered

Cellulitis can make you feel generally unwell and cause you to feel sick (nausea) or have shivers and chills.

Read more about the symptoms of cellulitis.

Wound infection

Any wound has the potential to become infected, including cuts and grazes or surgical wounds.

Symptoms include:

  • redness, swelling and pain at the site of the wound
  • a discharge of pus or liquid from the wound
  • the wound healing much slower than would usually be expected
  • an unpleasant smell coming from the site of the wound

Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome

Probably the most serious type of staphylococcal skin infection is staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS), which most commonly affects babies and young children under five.

In this type of infection, the staphylococcal bacteria release a toxin (poison) that damages the skin, leading to extensive blistering which looks like the skin has been scalded by boiling water.

Other symptoms of SSSS include:

  • painful skin
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • large areas of skin peeling off or falling away
  • redness of the skin which usually spreads across the entire body

Invasive staphylococcal infections

Invasive staph infections are uncommon but potentially serious. Some of the types and their symptoms are described below.

Septic arthritis is a condition where a joint becomes infected with the S. aureus bacteria. Symptoms of septic arthritis include:

  • joint pain and swelling
  • red and tender skin around the joint
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above

Read more about septic arthritis.

Septic bursitis

In septic bursitis, the bursa becomes infected. A bursa is a small fluid-filled sac which forms under the skin, usually over the joints and between tendons and bones.

Symptoms of septic bursitis include:

  • pain, swelling and tenderness in the affected body part which feels warm to the touch
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • chills

Read more about the symptoms of septic bursitis.


Pyomyositis is an infection of the muscles used to move and support the bones of the skeleton. It is more common in tropical areas of the world.

Symptoms of pyomyositis include:

  • a very high temperature, which can be as high as 40C (104F)
  • chills
  • pain and swelling in the affected muscles
  • the muscles feel soft and spongy to the touch due to the presence of pus

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection. One of the larger leg bones is usually affected.

Symptoms of osteomyelitis include:

  • a sudden high temperature
  • bone pain, which can often be severe
  • swelling, redness and warmth at the site of the infection
  • a general sense of feeling unwell
  • the affected body part is tender to touch
  • a restricted range of movement in the affected body part

Read more about the symptoms of osteomyelitis.

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. Symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • difficulty breathing – your breathing may be rapid and shallow and you may feel breathless, even when you are resting
  • rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • feeling generally unwell
  • pain in your chest

Read more about the symptoms of pneumonia.

Toxic shock syndrome is a rare condition caused when S. aureus bacteria enter the bloodstream and begin to release toxins (poisons). Most people are immune to the effects of the toxins, however in some people, the toxins can cause a drop in blood pressure and organ and tissue damage. The S. aureus can be found in a small wound, or associated with periods and using tampons.

Symptoms of toxic shock syndrome include:

  • a sudden high temperature
  • vomiting
  • a skin rash that looks like sunburn
  • diarrhoea
  • fainting or feeling faint
  • muscle aches
  • confusion

Read more about the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome.

Endocarditis is an infection of the inner layer of the heart, particularly affecting the heart valves. The symptoms of endocarditis can sometimes develop gradually over many weeks or quickly over a few days.

Symptoms of endocarditis, caused by a staphylococcal infection, include:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • chills and shivers
  • muscular aches and pains
  • chest pain
  • coughing
  • weakness and fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • headache
  • shortness of breath

Read more about the symptoms of endocarditis.

Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, can be due to any bacteria. The symptoms usually develop quickly and include:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • fast heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • fast breathing
  • low blood pressure (hypotension), which causes you to feel dizzy when you stand up
  • a change in mental behaviour, such as confusion or disorientation
  • diarrhoea
  • loss of consciousness

Sepsis is a medical emergency. Request an ambulance if you suspect that you or someone in your care is experiencing sepsis.

Read more about sepsis.

Staphylococcal food poisoning

The symptoms of staphylococcal food poisoning develop quickly after eating contaminated food (usually within 30 minutes to six hours). They include:

  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • being sick
  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhoea

These symptoms should pass within one to three days. However, if your symptoms persist beyond this time, or if they worsen rapidly, you should contact your doctor for advice.

Read more about the symptoms of food poisoning.

Bacterial & Viral Infections

Staph Infections

Amy was used to the occasional outbreak of zits, but the bump on her neck was different. It started out fairly small and itchy, but now was big and red and sore. Amy’s mom took her to the doctor and they were surprised to hear that the bump was a boil, an infection usually caused by staph bacteria.

What Is a Staph Infection?

Staph is the shortened name for Staphylococcus (pronounced: staf-uh-low-KAH-kus), a type of bacteria. These bacteria can live harmlessly on many skin surfaces, especially around the nose, mouth, genitals, and anus. But when the skin is punctured or broken for any reason, staph bacteria can enter the wound and cause an infection.

The staph family of bacteria has more than 30 species, which can cause different kinds of illnesses. For example, one kind of staph can cause urinary tract infections. But most staph infections are caused by the species Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus).

S. aureus most commonly causes skin infections like folliculitis, boils, impetigo, and cellulitis that are limited to a small area of a person’s skin. S. aureus can also release toxins (poisons) that may lead to illnesses like food poisoning or toxic shock syndrome.

How Do People Get Staph Infections?

In teens, most staph infections are minor skin infections. People with skin problems like burns or eczema may be more likely to get staph skin infections.

People can get staph infections from contaminated objects, but staph bacteria often spread through skin-to-skin contact — the bacteria can be spread from one area of the body to another if someone touches the infected area.

Staph infections can spread from person to person in group living situations (like college dorms). Usually this happens when people with skin infections share personal things like bed linens, towels, or clothing. Warm, humid environments can contribute to staph infections, so excessive sweating can increase someone’s chances of developing an infection.

Serious Staph Infections

Infections caused by S. aureus can occasionally become serious. This happens when the bacteria move from a break in the skin into the bloodstream. This can lead to infections in other parts of the body, such as the lungs, bones, joints, heart, blood, and central nervous system.

Staph infections in other parts of the body are less common than staph skin infections. They are more likely in people whose immune systems have been weakened by another disease — or by certain medications, like chemotherapy for cancer.

Sometimes, patients having surgery may get more serious types of staph infections. The good news is that hospital staff take many steps to avoid infection in someone having surgery. That’s why they carefully clean the area being operated on, use sterile equipment, and sometimes give a person antibiotics.

You may also have heard about methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA for short. MRSA is a type of staph that has built up a resistance to the antibiotics usually used to treat staph infections. Although MRSA can be harder to treat, in most cases the infection heals with the right treatment.

What Are the Signs of a Staph Skin Infection?

Staph skin infections show up in lots of different ways. Some of the more common conditions often caused by S. aureus skin infections are:

  • Folliculitis (pronounced: fuh-lih-kyoo-LY-tus) is an infection of the hair follicles, the tiny pockets under the skin where hair shafts (strands) grow. In folliculitis, tiny white-headed pimples appear at the base of hair shafts, sometimes with a small red area around each pimple. This happens often where people shave or have irritated skin from rubbing against clothing.
  • A furuncle (pronounced: fyoor-UNK-ul), commonly known as a boil, is a swollen, red, painful lump in the skin, usually due to an infected hair follicle. The lump usually fills with pus, growing larger and more painful until it ruptures and drains. Furuncles often begin as folliculitis and then worsen. They most often appear on the face, neck, buttocks, armpits, and inner thighs, where small hairs can be irritated. A cluster of several furuncles is called a carbuncle (pronounced: kar-BUNK-ul). A person with a carbuncle may feel ill and feverish.
  • Impetigo (pronounced: im-puh-TIE-go) is a superficial skin infection that mostly happens in young children, but it can sometimes affect teens and adults. Most impetigo infections affect the face, hands, or feet. An impetigo skin infection begins as a small blister or pimple, and then develops a honey-colored crust. Impetigo doesn’t usually cause pain or fever, although the blisters may itch and can be spread to other parts of the body by scratching.
  • Cellulitis (pronounced: sell-yuh-LYE-tus) is an infection involving the skin and areas of tissue below the skin surface. It begins as a small area of redness, pain, swelling, and warmth on the skin. As this area begins to spread, a person may feel feverish and ill. Cellulitis can affect any area of the body, but it’s most common on the legs.
  • A hordeolum (pronounced: hore-dee-OH-lum), commonly known as a stye (or sty), is a red, painful bump on the eyelid. It develops when glands connected to the base of the eyelash become swollen and irritated. A person with a stye will usually notice a red, warm, uncomfortable swelling near the edge of the eyelid.

Many of these staph infections are minor and can be treated at home. If a minor infection gets worse — for example, you start feeling feverish or ill or the area spreads and gets very red or and hot — it’s a good idea to see a doctor.

Wound infections generally show up 2 or more days after the injury or surgery. The signs of a wound infection (redness, pain, swelling, and warmth) are similar to those found in cellulitis. A person might have fever and feel sick in general. Pus or a cloudy fluid can drain from the wound and a yellow crust (like that in impetigo) can develop. If you think you have a wound infection after surgery, or you have a serious wound that seems to be infected, call your doctor.

Can I Prevent a Staph Skin Infection?

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are everywhere. Many healthy people carry staph bacteria without getting sick.

Cleanliness and good hygiene are the best way to protect yourself against getting staph (and other) infections — including MRSA. You can help prevent staph skin infections by washing your hands often and by bathing or showering daily.

Make sure to clean and cover areas of injured skin (such as cuts, scrapes, eczema, and rashes caused by allergic reactions or poison ivy). Use any antibiotic ointments or other treatments that your doctor suggests. If someone in your family has a staph infection, don’t share towels, sheets, or clothing until the infection has been fully treated.

If you develop a staph infection, you can prevent spreading it to other parts of your body by being careful not to touch the infected skin, keeping it covered whenever possible, and using a towel only once when you clean the area. Make sure to wash the towel in hot water afterwards or use disposable towels.

What Can I Do to Feel Better?

How long it takes for a staph skin infection to heal depends on the type of infection and whether a person gets treatment for it. A boil, for example, may take 10 to 20 days to heal without treatment, but treatment may speed up this process. Most styes, on the other hand, go away on their own within several days.

To help relieve pain from a skin infection, and to help pus drain out, try soaking the affected area in warm water or applying warm, moist washcloths. Use a clean washcloth each time — wash used cloths in soap and hot water and dry them fully in a clothes dryer. You can also apply a heating pad or a hot water bottle to the skin for about 20 minutes, three or four times a day.

Pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help reduce pain until the infection subsides. For some skin infections, it can also help to wash the area with an antibacterial cleanser and apply an antibiotic ointment. Cover the skin with a clean dressing.

A stye can be treated using warm compresses over the eye (with the eye closed) three or four times a day. Be sure you always use a clean washcloth each time. Occasionally, a stye will require a topical antibiotic. See your doctor if a stye doesn’t go away in a few days.

If you get a staph infection on skin areas that you normally shave, avoid shaving, if possible, until the infection clears up. If you do have to shave the area, use a clean disposable razor or clean your electric razor after each use.

Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: June 2014

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