Staph Infections: What Are They and When Should You Worry?
The staphylococcus bacteria, which is all around us, causes staph infections. Find out more about types of staph infections and when they’re cause for worry.
The bacteria that causes a staph infection, staphylococcus aureus, is all around us all the time. It lives on surfaces and on the ground. You may also carry it on your skin and in your nose. But how does it go from harmless companion to troublesome foe?
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Staph can enter your body through any nick or cut in the skin. The infections that then may take hold are usually minor, but sometimes quite serious.
“Typically, we get along with staphylococcus just fine,” says family medicine physician Donald Ford, MD, MBA. “It’s harmless and it usually doesn’t cause any problems or it results in a minor skin infection.”
But staph can become life-threatening if it somehow finds its way into your bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart.
Types of staph infections include:
Most staph infections are easy to treat and typically respond well to antibiotics or by draining the infected area, Dr. Ford says.
“We treat more superficial skin infections such as impetigo for a few days,” he says. “A deeper boil or an abscess can take up to a few weeks to heal. Treating a blood infection is a much more serious thing and it may result in a prolonged course of treatment. ”
Some staph infections, particularly MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), have developed a resistance to certain antibiotics.
While MRSA commonly causes skin infections, it can cause more serious infections. The infected wound may require surgical or local drainage. Your doctor likely will prescribe a stronger antibiotic to treat it as well.
Since staph is all around us, it’s not uncommon for a perfectly healthy person to get a staph infection. The best way to avoid it is to maintain good hygiene, Dr. Ford says.
“Wash your hands, particularly after you’ve been working in the soil or working with food products,” he says. “Make sure food is properly prepared, clean and fresh because if your food gets exposed to staph you can get staph-related food poisoning.”
If you get a cut on your skin, treat it immediately. Wash it with soap and water, dry your skin and cover it with a bandage.
If you think you have a staph infection, Dr. Ford suggests bringing it to your doctor’s attention or going to an emergency care center.
“Staph is sometimes a serious infection if left untreated. So it’s always a good idea to go see your doctor or another health care provider if you’re worried you might have a staph infection,” Dr. Ford says.