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What are Staph Skin Infections?

By Jennifer Long
Updated Feb 25, 2024
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Staphylococcus, or Staph, is a type of bacteria. It is usually present in the mouth and on the surface of the skin of most people. Staph skin infections occur when a break in the skin becomes infected by one of 30 different forms of the bacteria. The most common skin staph strain is Staphylococcus aureus.

This type of skin infection has several different signs and symptoms. Staphylococcus infections must be identified and treated as quickly as possible. If a staph infection progresses untreated, it can develop a resistance to antibiotic treatment and develop into a flesh-eating infection. Catching staph skin infections during early stages helps to ensure effective treatment.

Staph infections commonly begin with redness, pain, and swelling at the site. Some cases will have other early symptoms as well. Abscesses, furuncles, or boils may also occur. In more severe infections, a fever may present during the early stage.

If there are signs of any of these symptoms, seeking quick medical attention is necessary. Getting treatment right away is important to prevent the infection from spreading to other areas. Most doctors can look at the skin and diagnosis a staph infection, but they usually also like to take a culture as a diagnosis confirmation.

Staph skin infections, also known as cellulitis, are similar to another type of skin infection called impetigo. The difference is in how deep the infection occurs, and how it is treated. While cellulitis and impetigo both involve infection cause by staph bacteria, cellulitis affects the subcutaneous tissue and dermis - the deeper layers of the skin.

Penicillin-based antibiotics can be effective treatments for staph skin infections. More severe infections may require treatment with stronger antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant strains and staph infections that are deep within or around the muscles will usually require surgical cleaning because antibiotic treatment will not work.

In addition to the antibiotics, a doctor will also recommend other things to help ease the discomfort that accompanies staph skin infections. If skin is warm to the touch, cool compresses can be used. For fevers, acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used. If pain and swelling occur, alternating hot and cold therapy can provide some relief.

Staph skin infections can often be prevented. General good hygiene keeps the bacteria from getting into abrasions and cuts. Wash broken skin with soap and water and apply antiseptic ointment to create a barrier. Under normal conditions, staph infections are not contagious, but if the wound is draining, the bacteria can be spread to other people. Wounds should be covered to prevent contamination.

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Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On Sep 15, 2013

Is it true that staphylococcus bacteria have developed resistance to some of the antibiotics used to treat it?

What is the best antibiotic to treat staph infections on skin?

By turquoise — On Sep 15, 2013

@ysmina-- That sucks. You are doing the right thing by being careful. I would avoid all physical contact too and do not share clothes or towels.

Staph bacteria is very stubborn and can be hard to get rid of. Even after your friend's infection appears to be gone, I would continue to be careful. Sometimes staph skin infections make a comeback soon after they're treated. It can re-infect the person from clothing and sheets so those should be washed in hot water regularly.

By ysmina — On Sep 15, 2013

My roommate has a skin staph infection. She got it from her boyfriend who probably got it from the locker room at the gym. The infection is on her leg and it's very bad. She's on a ton of antibiotics for it.

I know I won't get it unless I have skin contact with her, but I'm freaked out nonetheless. I make sure not to get our laundry mixed up.

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