8 Things to Know About Staph Infections

  • Staph infection on face
    What is a staph infection?
    A staph infection is a bacterial infection. Staph is the short name for Staphylococcus. This group of bacteria includes about 30 different strains. They live everywhere and you come across them all the time. In fact, it’s normal to have staph on the skin, in the nose and mouth, and around the genitals. Most of the time, this doesn’t cause any problems. When a staph infection occurs, Staphylococcus aureus is the most common strain involved. You may also see it described S. aureus. Knowing these eight facts will help you protect yourself and your family from staph infections and complications.
  • Skin abscess on leg
    1. The most common type of staph infection is a skin infection.
    Staph bacteria can cause several types of infections, including food poisoning, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections. But the skin is the most common site for a staph infection. The infection can range from mild to severe. Most commonly, a staph infection causes a boil—small pocket of pus. It develops around a hair follicle or oil gland, usually under the arms or on the groin or buttocks. Other skin infections include impetigo, sty, folliculitis, cellulitis, and staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome.
  • male using electric razor
    2. Staph is contagious.
    How do you get a staph infection if it lives on the skin and doesn’t usually cause problems? An infection can develop when bacteria enter broken skin, such as happens after a cut, scrape or wound. The person with the infection can spread it through skin-to-skin contact. You can infect another body part by transferring bacteria through touch as well. It can also spread on objects or by sharing personal items, such as sheets, towels or razors.
  • Friends sitting on sofa chewing bubble gum
    3. People who live in close quarters are at highest risk.
    Staph infections can spread quickly in settings where people are in close contact with each other. A college dorm is a common example. But there are others, such as camps, military barracks, and jails. Young children in day care or schools can also easily pass staph infections to each other. Warm, humid environments, such as sweaty bodies, help staph infections spread. This puts athletes, especially those with skin-to-skin contact, at high risk. Having broken skin increases the risk even more.
  • MRSA bacteria
    4. MRSA is the most common cause of staph skin infections.
    MRSA (methicillin-resistant S. aureus) is a drug-resistant form of staph. It has changed and acquired antibiotic resistance through mutations so that typical antibiotics can’t kill it. Unfortunately, MRSA causes more than half of all community-associated skin and soft tissue infections in the United States. Skin staph infection symptoms are similar whether due to MRSA or regular staph bacteria. The infection looks like a bump or a rash of pimples or blisters. The area may have pus or ooze fluid. You may also notice redness, warmth, pain, and swelling. The skin may slough off in very severe staph infections.
  • Sick woman taking her temperature
    5. A staph infection can lead to complications.
    In most healthy people, a staph infection does not present a major health threat. The infection stays in the skin and heals with treatment. But staph infections have the potential to become serious and even deadly. This can happen when the bacteria invade the bloodstream and infect other parts of the body. This includes blood, bone, joint, heart and lung infections. Serious infections are more likely to develop in people with weak immune systems or those with chronic medical problems. Sepsis is another potential and life-threatening complication of a staph infection.
  • doctor-examining-patients-arm
    6. You need a lab test to diagnose a staph infection.
    If you think you have a skin infection, see your doctor promptly. Keep the area clean and covered with a bandage until your appointment. You or your doctor may suspect a staph infection by the look of your skin. But the only way to know for sure is to take a sample of pus, fluid or cells. Your doctor will swab the area and send it to a lab for testing. The lab will be able to tell if staph bacteria are present. The lab will also give your doctor information about which antibiotics to use.
  • man-holding-two-bottles-of-pills
    7. Antibiotics are an effective staph infection treatment.
    For mild infections, you can usually take oral antibiotics to treat a staph skin infection. If you have a collection of pus, your doctor may drain it. This involves making a cut in the sore and cleaning out all the infection. When your doctor prescribes antibiotics, it is very important to finish the entire course. Stopping antibiotics early gives the bacteria an opportunity to develop resistance. Call your doctor if you have problems with side effects or your infection gets worse, such as developing a fever. You may need a different antibiotic.
  • Kitchen faucet
    8. There are steps you can take to prevent staph infections.
    Staph bacteria are hardy, but you can help prevent their spread through hygiene. Wash your hands often and properly—lather for 20 seconds before rinsing with warm water. Use hand sanitizer if you can’t wash. Shower too, especially after workouts, games or practices. Clean and cover cuts, scrapes, wounds, and open sores. Don’t share personal items that touch the skin. Make sure sports equipment is clean before using it. Use a towel or clothing to protect your skin if you share equipment. Wash athletic clothes after each wear. Use the hottest water possible to clean and wash anything that touches the skin.
Staph Infection: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment | Staphylococcus aureus

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. MRSA. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/mrsa.html
  2. MRSA Infection. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mrsa/symptoms-causes/syc-20375336
  3. Overview of Bacterial Skin Infections. Merck Manual Consumer Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/skin-disorders/bacterial-skin-infections/overview-of-bacterial-skin-infections
  4. Staph Infections. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/staph-infections/symptoms-causes/syc-20356221
  5. Staph Infections - Self-care at Home. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000686.htm
  6. Staphylococcal Infections. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/staphylococcalinfections.html
  7. Staphylococcus aureus Infections. Merck Manual Consumer Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/infections/bacterial-infections/staphylococcus-aureus-infections
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 5
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.