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Staphylococcal infections are a group of infections caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus. You may have heard them referred to as "staph infections".
Staph bacteria can cause a wide range of infections, from relatively minor skin infections such as boils, to more serious infections of the blood, lungs and heart.
There are many types of Staphylococci, but most infections are caused by a group called Staphylococcus aureus.
This group of bacteria includes meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is resistant to certain antibiotics that are commonly used for staph infections, such as flucloxacillin.
It also includes PVL-Staphylococcus aureus, which produces a toxin called Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL), which kills infection-fighting white blood cells and can cause recurrent skin infections, such as boils and abscesses.
This page covers some of the main types of staph infection, including information on how these infections are spread and treated.
Staph infections can be broadly classified into two groups: skin and soft tissue infections, and invasive infections. Examples are given below.
Most infections caused by staph bacteria are relatively minor and only affect the skin or underlying tissue. Common examples include:
Click on the links above for more information on these conditions, including their symptoms and treatments.
In a small number of people, a staph skin infection can lead to a more serious, invasive infection deeper within the body. Examples include:
Click on the links above for more information about these conditions, including their symptoms and treatments.
Staph bacteria are common. About one person in every three carries the bacteria harmlessly on their skin, usually inside their nose and on the surface of their armpits and buttocks.
However, the bacteria can cause problems if they enter the body through a break in the skin, such as a cut or graze, burn or insect bite. They can also get into your body via medical equipment, such as urinary catheters, openings in the skin where drips are inserted and feeding tubes.
Staph bacteria are usually spread between people through close skin contact or by sharing contaminated objects, such as towels or toothbrushes. Occasionally, they can be spread in droplets in the coughs and sneezes of someone carrying the bacteria.
Eating food contaminated with staph bacteria can give you food poisoning. This normally develops after eating food, usually meat, that hasn't been cooked or stored properly.
Staph skin infections are common, particularly among children, teenagers and young adults. Invasive infections are much rarer.
Both types of infection can affect healthy people, but more serious infections tend to affect those who:
Some minor staph infections, including minor boils and food poisoning, don't need specific treatment and will get better on their own within a few days or weeks.
In some cases, antibiotic tablets or creams may be recommended to treat the infection, and you may need a minor procedure to drain any pus from under your skin, using a needle or scalpel.
Until the infection clears up, you should take precautions to avoid spreading the infection to other people. These include washing your hands regularly, not sharing objects that could become contaminated, regularly cleaning any pus off your skin, and covering the infected area with a dressing or plaster.
Invasive staphylococcal infections will often require treatment in hospital, because your body's functions may need to be supported while the infection is treated. The infection will usually be treated with antibiotic injections for several days.
You can reduce your chances of developing staph infections by:
If you experience repeated staph infections and you're found to carry the bacteria on your skin, your doctor may recommend using antibacterial shampoo and nasal cream to kill the bacteria and reduce the risk of further infections.