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Staph Infection

What is a Staph infection?

Staphylococcus, or Staph, refers to a group of bacteria. The most common type of Staph causing infection is called Staphylococcus aureus, which often causes skin infections like impetigo and boils. Staph can also cause infection of the deeper skin layers (called cellulitis), bone infections, and muscle or joint infections. Rarely, Staph may cause other serious infections, such as internal infections (known as abscesses), pneumonia, and heart infections.

How does it occur?

Staph aureus can live harmlessly in the nose and throat of many people. It can cause infection when it gets into skin through small cuts or scrapes, or through skin which may be affected by conditions such as eczema.

What are the symptoms?

For common skin infections like impetigo or skin abscess (boils), symptoms may include:

  • a small, well-defined area of swelling and redness (similar to a pimple)
  • pain
  • pus coming from the infected area
  • yellowish crusting of the area.

Deeper skin infection (cellulitis) can result in:

  • a larger, often less well-defined area of swelling, pain, warmth, and redness
  • fever.

How is it diagnosed?

Most skin infections can be diagnosed by your health care provider based on the symptoms and appearance of the infected area. At times, a culture of the pus coming from an infected area can help determine the type of bacteria causing the infection. Further testing can determine the best antibiotics to use for treatment.

How is it treated?

For many skin infections, draining the pus from the area is all that is needed. In other cases especially for impetigo and cellulitis, many health care providers will also give 1 to 2 weeks of an oral antibiotic medicine. More serious infections may require treatment in the hospital and intravenous antibiotics.

Treating Staph infections has become more difficult in recent years, as bacteria are starting to become resistant to the more common antibiotics used. These resistant bacteria are known as MRSA, which stands for "methicillin-resistant Staph aureus." Your provider may want to have the pus tested to check if the infection is caused by MRSA. If it is a MRSA, alternative types of antibiotics will be chosen by your health care provider.

How long will it last?

Impetigo usually gets better within 2 weeks. Impetigo may be treated with topical or oral medicines. Boils will improve within a week if the pus is drained. For deeper tissue infections, such as bone, joint, muscle, lung, or heart infections, your child will be hospitalized. Improvement of these infections is usually seen within 3 or 4 days of starting antibiotics. However, deeper tissue infections can be very slow to completely heal.

How can I help prevent Staph infections?

Drug-resistant Staph infections can become a problem for some children. Treatment of a skin infection does not always get rid of Staph bacteria which may be living in the nose or throat. Even if all of the bacteria were removed from your child during treatment, because other family members may have the staph bacteria in their noses and throats, your child may continue to get the bacteria from contact with family.

There are treatment routines that involve taking medicine for longer periods of time that can help remove drug-resistant Staph bacteria from all members of your family. You should talk to your health care provider about these treatments.

When should I call my child's health care provider?

Call immediately if:

  • Your child has chills.
  • Your child is in severe pain.
  • Your child refuses to walk.
  • Your child has an extensive rash associated with a Staph infection
  • Your child is extremely tired or sleepy.
  • Your child has a fever lasting more than 5 days.

Call during office hours if:

  • You notice the infection spreading.
  • Your child is not responding to antibiotic treatment within 3 to 4 days.
Written by William Muller, MD.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-09-12
Last reviewed: 2006-08-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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