The Dangers of a Staph Infection: How to Get and Prevent a Staph Infection

Staph infections are infections that are caused by staphylococcus bacteria, according to the Mayo Clinic. There are different types of staphylococcus bacteria, including MRSA strains – which are strains of the bacteria that are highly resistant to treatment by antibiotics. All individuals need to have a general understanding of staph infections and potential dangers associated with these types of infections.

Where are Staph Bacteria Found?

Staph bacteria of all types can be found on the skin and the nose of humans. People can carry staph bacteria on their skin and in their noses and not be infected by the bacteria. When people are carrying this type of bacteria in this manner they are said to be colonized by staph.

In addition to being found on the skin and in the nose of humans, staph bacteria can also be found on objects of different types that have come into contact with people carrying or colonized by the bacteria. Staph are durable types of bacteria, some strains – including MRSA strains, which are discussed in greater detail shortly – can survive on skin, in noses, and on surfaces for extended periods of time – upwards to two to six months.

Most Common Types of Staph Infections

In most cases, staph infections present as skin problems oftentimes of a fairly minor nature. (MRSA infections are primary exceptions.) The least serious type of “regular” or non-antibiotic resistant staph infection appears as a small boil, the size and appearance of a pimple. A pocket of pus develops under the skin, also similar to certain type of pimples.

More serious skin maladies caused by a staph infection are:

  • Impetigo
  • Cellulitis
  • Staphylococcal scaled skin syndrome

Impetigo appears as a painful rash and features large blisters. These blisters may ooze fluid.

Cellulitis is an infection of the deeper or lower layers of the skin. Cellulitis results in skin redness and swelling. It can also exhibit sores or ulcers on the surface of the skin and a discharge of fluid is also likely to occur.

Staphylococcal scaled skin syndrome results from toxins that can be released into the skin as a result of a staph infection. A rash spreads over the skin which sometimes features blisters. A person with this syndrome will also typically develop a fever. It leaves a person looking like they have burnt skin. This syndrome most often afflicts babies and children.

Treatment of Common Types of Staph Infections

Staph infections that are not anti-biotic resistant and are confined to one of the skin conditions just described typically are not difficult to treat. Generally speaking, a course of antibiotics will eliminate the infection.

In addition, depending on the circumstances, a doctor may lance and drain an area on or in the skin infected with staph. This not only eliminates bacteria but oftentimes eases pain that might be associated with a staph infection.

The key to successfully combating a staph infection is to seek medical assistance as soon as possible. Because antibiotics will address a common or milder form of the infection, the sooner medical intervention occurs the better.

Serious Staph Infections

If left untreated, even a common staph infection can develop into something more serious in some cases. (Again, a distinction is being drawn here between serious common staph infections and antibiotic resistant staph infections or MRSA infections, which are addressed separately and in a moment.)

In some cases, if a staph infection initially contained in the skin is not resolved promptly the bacteria can burrow deeper into a person’s body. If that happens, staph bacteria can end up invading:

  • Lungs
  • Bones
  • Joints
  • Heart
  • Bloodstream

Provided non-MRSA staph bacteria has invaded more deeply into the body, a course of antibiotics remains the treatment protocol. Assuming the type of bacteria that has more deeply invaded the body, antibiotics will resolve the issue.

Can You “Pop” a Staph Boil or Blister?

As mentioned previously, staph infections related to the skin typically present as tiny boils or blisters. The boils do look rather like pimples in some cases.

Because doctors will oftentimes lance and drain a staph infection, you may wonder whether you can or should do something similar at home. You may wonder whether you can “pop” a staph boil.

In fact, absent a directive from your doctor to do so, you should avoid popping or otherwise draining a staph boil or blister on your own. Yes, you likely will be able to drain the infected area. But, being untrained on the lancing and draining process, you may cause damage to lower layers of your skin in the “popping” process which might permit the regrettable spread of staph bacteria deeper into your skin.

Will Staph Resolve without Antibiotics?

Some staph infections are indeed very minor. They may manifest only as a tiny pimple-like sore. In such cases, a body typically is capable to fighting off and resolving the infection within a few days.

A person who finds such a sore on his or her body can monitor it for a couple of days. Assuming there are no other symptoms, and assuming the sore does start to improve and doesn’t get worse, a doctor visit can be avoided.

MRSA Infections

In recent years, MRSA infections have become more widespread. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a type of staph infection that is resistant to most commonly used antibiotics.

A majority of individuals become infected by MRSA in a hospital setting, but it can also spread in the community at large. A MRSA infection can have serious and even fatal consequences.

As is the case with a “common” staph infection, a MRSA infection begins with the skin. Because it cannot be treated readily with antibiotics, a MRSA infection is more apt to spread. This includes spreading in the skin but also burrowing more deeply into a person’s body.

If a MRSA staph infection ends up deeper in an individual’s body, the risk of serious complications is far more significant than is the case with a common strain of the bacteria.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control a Prevention, approximately 80,000 people in the country infected with invasive MRSA infections. These are the infections that are found deeper in the body in places like the lungs, heart, bones, or bloodstream. Of this number, about 11,000 people die annually.

Practices to Prevent Staph Infection

There are a number of tactics you can employ to prevent a staph infection. One of the most important of these strategies is to wash hands regularly. Hands should be washed with soap and briskly for at least 20 to 30 seconds. If in public, hands should be dried with a disposable towel or a hand dryer. The faucet should not be touched with bare hands after washing, If it lacks an automatic shutoff, a person should use a paper towel or something similar to touch the faucet handle when turning it off.

Hand sanitizer can also be helpful in preventing a staph infection. A sanitizer should contain at least 60 percent alcohol.

Another important step in preventing a staph infection is to keep any type of wound covered. Staph enters through even the smallest of skin wounds and keeping them covered is a vital frontline defense against the bacteria.

Do not share personal items. Sharing certain types of personal items raises the risk of a staph infection. Personal items that you particularly need to avoid sharing include:

  • Sheets
  • Towels
  • Razors
  • Clothing
  • Athletic equipment

Staph bacteria can survive on bedding and clothing. The bacteria can survive when bedding and clothing are not washed properly. Whenever possible, you should wash bedding and clothing in hot water.

A proactive stance must be taken if you or a member of your family appears to have a staph infection. Of course, prevention is the best course of combating a staph infection. Absent prevention, early and appropriate treatment is a must.