Staphylococcus or Staph bacteria live in the nose of one-third of individuals and on the skin of 1 in 5 individuals. It is generally harmless and people who carry it might not show any symptoms. Most times these bacteria causes no problem. However, they can cause big issues when they enter into your bloodstream, joints, lungs, heart, etc. and invade deeper into the body. These bacteria can cause minor skin infections or mild food poisoning, but the secondary infections can be deadly too.
Here are some symptoms of Staph infections:
Skin: Staph skin infections can lead to boils, most common type of infection that can lead to a pocket of pus; impetigo, painful and contagious rash that can cause blisters or cellulitis; infection in deeper layers of skin that can cause redness or swelling in the skin.
Septicemia: Also known as blood poisoning, this occurs when the bacteria enters into the bloodstream of an individual. Symptoms are generally low blood pressure and a fever. Bacteria can travel and cause infections in internal organs, bones and muscles, surgically implanted device etc.
Septic Arthritis: In this infection, the bacteria affects the joints of a person like knees, shoulders, fingers and toes along with hip joints. Signs include swelling in the joints and sharp pain.
Staphylococcal Pneumonia: The symptoms of pneumonia includes cough with greenish or bloody mucus, chest pain, chills etc. This can cause complications especially in children, elderly and those with underlying lung disease. The last kind of individuals, however, also have higher chances of suffering from pneumonia due to Staph.
Toxin-producing Staph can lead to:
Some strains of bacteria can cause:
Food Poisoning: This is a kind of gastrointestinal illness caused by Staph toxins. The bacteria can spread when someone who has bacteria on skin touches the food without washing hands. The bacteria is also present in milk and cheese products. Once it enters the food, the toxins began to multiply. Heating kills the bacteria but not the toxins. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting etc. This is generally a brief illness for most of individuals.
Toxic Shock Syndrome: This is a deadly condition that is caused by certain toxins produced by streptococci. The symptoms are mainly vomiting, diarrhea, stomach aches that will be followed by hypotension or low blood pressure. This can lead to shock and even death. The syndrome has been described and at most times occur in menstruating women using tampons.
Scalded Skin Syndrome: Toxins produced by Staph can cause this syndrome that leads to fever, rash and at times, blisters. The person might also experience fever, chills and weakness.
Breastfeeding Mothers and Newborns:
Breastfeeding mothers can get an infection due to Staph around their nipples called the mastitis. The area becomes red and painful and develops cellulitis and abscesses. It can develop 1-4 weeks within the delivery. Sometimes, the abscesses produce a large amount of bacteria which can infect the baby. A proper treatment is necessary for mastitis.
Staph can cause some serious vulnerable infections in newborns. The bacteria can infect the skin and cause scalded skin syndrome or enter the bloodstream and cause blood poisoning. The infection is more serious when they get infected by MRSA. Staph is contagious which is why it is recommended for all the visitors to properly wash their hands before touching a newborn baby.
Risk Factors of Staph Infections:
These are certain factors that can increase your risk of Staph infection:
- Burns or other skin disorders
- Chronic lung disorders
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Radiation Therapy
- Organ Transplant
- Injection of Illegal Drugs
- Compromised Immune System
- Newborns and kids under age of 6
Is a Staph contagious?
Staph infections are contagious until the symptoms completely go away. Direct contact with personal care items of the sickened person or an open sore or wound can cause transmission in the individuals. Direct contact poses the maximum chances of spreading the infection and casual contact generally will not cause transmission. Staph bacteria that produces toxin can cause toxic shock syndrome or food poisoning. These kind of bacteria are not contagious per se from person to person, but those involved in food poisoning can affect as many people who have had the same contaminated food.
Staph infections also holds long-term risks especially for those who acquire antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). Almost one-quarter of patients who have this Staph bacteria develop symptoms of the infection within a year like pneumonia and blood disease that were linked to death. One research followed 281 patients who had MRSA from 1-4 years. Staph was responsible for the death of 14 of them.
Even though MRSA is responsible for most long term complications that Staph patients suffer other strains of bacteria can be responsible for it too. Immune dysfunctions is one of the most common risks of the illness.
Antibiotic resistance and Staph infection:
Staph bacteria have become very resistant to certain antibiotics. These bacteria are known as MRSA or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus as they have become resistant to methicillin and other drugs of same class such as amoxicillin and penicillin. They are known as ‘superbugs’, which is basically an informal term coined by scientists for the bacteria that has become resistant to the drug that it is usually cured with.
MRSA is quite common among people who have conditions that increases the risk factor of causing Staph. Treatment of MRSA is done using IV antibiotics like vancomycin that have more side effects than other drugs.
Good Hygiene is the best defense against Staph infections.
- Wash Your Hands properly for at least 20 seconds before eating food or cooking etc. Keep a hand sanitizer with you at all time with at least 60% alcohol.
- Your wounds, cuts and abrasions should be covered with sterile, dry bandages. The pus from these sores can spread the bacteria.
- You should change your tampon frequently to prevent TSS. Tampons should be changed every 4-8 hours for safety. You can alternate tampons with sanitary pads whenever possible.
- Do not share your personal items such as towels, razors, athletic equipments etc with another person.
- You should wash your clothing and bedding in hot water. Staph bacteria lives on them and this will help prevent spreading these bacteria.
- You should take proper precautions for food safety while handling, cooking and storing food.
By: Pooja Sharma, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)