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Staph infection

What is a staph infection?

It is a type of infection caused by a Staphylococcus (or "staph") bacteria. In fact, about 25% of people normally carry staph in the nose, mouth, genitals and anal area. The foot is also very prone to picking up bacteria from the floor. 

The infection often begins with a small cut, which becomes infected with bacteria. These staph infections range from a simple boil to antibiotic-resistant infections such as MRSA. Staph infections can vary in respect of how deep they are, how fast they spread and how treatable they are with antibiotics.

The type of staph infection that involves skin is called cellulitis, which affects the skin's deeper layers. It is treatable with antibiotics. This type of infection is very common in the general population and more common and more severe in people with weak immune systems. People who have diabetes or weakened immunity are particularly prone to developing cellulitis.

What are the symptoms of staph Infection?

Staph cellulitis usually begins as a small area of tenderness, swelling and redness. Sometimes it begins with an open sore. Other times, there is no break in the skin at all and it's anyone's guess where the bacteria came from.

The signs of cellulitis are those of any inflammation: redness, warmth, swelling, and pain. Any skin sore or ulcer that has these signs may be developing cellulitis. If the staph infection spreads, the person may develop a fever, sometimes with chills and sweating, as well as swelling in the area.

What’s the treatment for staph infection?

Antibiotics are used to treat these infections but there's been a gradual change in how well these antibiotics work. While most staph infections used to be treatable with penicillin, that changed in the 1980s and different antibiotics are now used. In about 50% of cases, however, resistance is being seen to even these antibiotics. This is not just happening in hospitals, as once was the case, but is now being seen in the general community.

Another treatment is sometimes used for staph infections; if the infection goes so deep that it involves muscles, or the fibres that enclose muscles, it will need to be surgically cleaned.

Can staph infection be prevented?

You can take steps to help prevent staph infection. Any time you have a cut or break in the skin, wash it with soap and water, keep it clean and dry, use antiseptic ointment and keep it covered.

The staph infection is contagious if the wound is weeping or draining, and if people share towels or other items that are contaminated. Wearing foot coverings in changing rooms and other commonly used areas can help prevent contamination.

If the sore becomes unusually painful or red, get prompt medical attention. If red lines develop, that's a sign that the infection is spreading and needs immediate medical attention.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on June 14, 2012

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