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What is a Staph Infection?

Topical antibiotics can be used to treat a staph infection.
Immediate cleaning and bandaging of cuts will help prevent staph infection.
Oral antibiotics may be prescribed to treat a staph infection.
Patients who spend an extended amount of time in the hospital following surgical procedures are at an increased risk of developing staph infections.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2014
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A staph infection is an infection characterized by the presence of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, known as “staph.” Around a quarter of the population carries this bacteria around naturally, making staph infections very common, as the bacteria readily exploits small cuts in the skin or people with compromised immune systems, such as older people and cancer patients. The severity of a staph infection varies considerably, depending on the condition of the patient and the area which is infected.

Some common examples of staph infections include: folliculitis, hordeolums, and impetigo. These infections attack the hair follicles, eyelids, and face, respectively. In these cases, the staph bacteria manages to enter the skin through a small break, causing a buildup of pus and a mild inflammation which can turn the area red, splotchy, and sometimes scabby, in the case of impetigo. More seriously, a staph infection can turn into an abscess, a deep wound in the skin or another organ.

Sometimes, the body manages to clear up a staph infection on its own, especially if warm compresses are regularly applied to the area, and if the area is kept clean. However, there may be instances in which a staph infection continues to spread, causing a variety of problems such as toxic shock syndrome, pneumonia, endocarditis, and bone infections, among others. In these cases, medical treatment is critical.

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When a patient comes in with a suspected staph infection, the doctor may take a swab to culture the bacteria and confirm that it is staph. Antibiotics will also be prescribed to kill the bacteria. Oral and topical antibiotics can be used, and sometimes several different antibiotics will be needed, if the bacteria has developed antibiotic resistance.

Staph infections can be prevented with the use of rigorous personal hygiene. Keeping hands clean is important, as is washing out all cuts and wounds to clear away bacteria before it gets a chance to settle in. Regularly wiping down counters, doorhandles, and other frequently handled surfaces also helps to keep staph bacteria down, reducing the spread of the bacteria significantly.

One form of staphylococcus, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), is especially dangerous. This form of the bacteria has developed a resistance to most antibiotics, making it very difficult to treat, and potentially deadly. To reduce the development of antibiotic resistance, it is important to complete courses of antibiotics, ensuring that all of the bacteria is killed off. Failure to complete an antibiotic course simply kills off the weak bacteria, allowing the resistant bacteria to thrive and breed. In addition to prolonging the infection, this also contributes to the increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria around the world.

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