Staph infections are caused by staphylococcus bacteria, a type of germ commonly found on the skin or in the nose of even healthy individuals. Most of the time, these bacteria cause no problems or result in relatively minor skin infections.
But staph infections can turn deadly if the bacteria invade deeper into your body, entering your bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart.
In the past, a lethal staph infection might have occurred in a person who was hospitalized or had a chronic illness or weakened immune system. Now, a growing number of otherwise healthy people are developing life-threatening staph infections. And many staph infections no longer respond to common antibiotics.
Staph infections can range from minor skin problems to endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of your heart valve lining. As a result, signs and symptoms of staph infections vary widely, depending on the location and severity of the infection.
Toxic shock syndrome
When to see a doctor
You may also want to consult your doctor if:
MRSA infections start out as small red bumps that can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses. ...
Many people carry staph bacteria and never develop staph infections. If you have a staph infection, there's a good chance that it stemmed from bacteria you've been carrying around for some time.
These bacteria can also be transmitted from person to person. Because staph bacteria are so hardy, they can live on inanimate objects such as pillowcases or towels long enough to transfer to the next person who touches them.
Staph bacteria are able to survive:
A variety of factors — ranging from the status of your immune system to the types of sports you play — can increase your risk of developing staph infections.
Current or recent hospitalization
If staph bacteria invade your bloodstream, you may develop a type of infection that affects your entire body. Called sepsis, this infection can lead to septic shock — a life-threatening episode with extremely low blood pressure.
Preparing for your appointment
While you may initially consult your family physician, he or she may refer you to a specialist, depending on which of your organ systems is affected by the infection. For example, a dermatologist specializes in skin conditions, while a cardiologist treats heart disorders. Or you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases.
What you can do
For staph infection, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose a staph infection, your doctor will:
Treatments and drugs
Treatment of a staph infection may include:
The emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of staph bacteria — often described as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains — has led to the use of stronger and more-toxic antibiotics, such as vancomycin. A few strains of staph bacteria have become resistant to vancomycin, too.
These common-sense precautions can help lower your risk of developing staph infections:
Last Updated: 2011-06-09
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