What is Staphylococcus Aureus?

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  • Written By: Mary Ellen Popolo
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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Staphylococcus aureus, or S. aureus, was discovered in 1880 by a Scottish surgeon named Sir Alexander Ogston. About 25% of the human population carries S. aureus in their nose, mouth, anal and genital areas and on their skin with little or no effects from the bacteria. S. aureus is the leading cause of many ailments and illnesses including pimples and boils as well as pneumonia and meningitis. Staph infections and food poisoning are among the most notable illnesses S. aureus is responsible for.

One strain of Staphylococcus aureus causes staph infections which develop when S. aureus bacteria gains access to the body through an open cut or sore, a catheter or a breathing tube. Staph infections can be minor — such as a pimple, or serious — such as pneumonia or toxic shock syndrome. Infections of the skin cause the infected area of the skin to be red, swollen and painful to the touch. Symptoms of a more serious staph infection include headache, chills, cough and a rash.

Cellulitis is a staph infection that affects the deeper layers of the skin. This type of staph infection is very common though it can be more severe in people with weaker immune systems, such as people with diabetes. Cellulitis is generally treated with antibiotics.


Another common illness Staphylococcus aureus causes is food poisoning. Under certain circumstances, when S. auerus bacteria invades food it multiplies and produces toxins. Foods that have been contaminated with staph food poisoning may show no sign of being bad. They do not have a bad smell. Certain foods, such as meat, eggs, dairy products and salads like tuna salad are more prone to developing staphylococcal food poisoning.

Symptoms of food poisoning come on fast and strong, usually within a few hours. Some of the symptoms include nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramping, headache and fatigue. The severity of the symptoms depends upon how much of the tainted food was consumed, a person's age and general health. Symptoms usually dissipate in two to three days.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a strain of Staphylococcus aureus that is highly resistant to some antibiotics. Whereas other forms of S. aureus are treated with antibiotics like methicillin, penicillin and amoxicillin, MRSA does not respond well to these antibiotics. Instead, MRSA is treated by drainage of the wound and prescribing antibiotics that are effective against MRSA. In some cases, a combination of antibiotics can effectively work together to combat MRSA.

The best defense against Staphylococcus aureus includes frequently washing hands with warm, soapy water, especially after using the bathroom or being out in public. Sharing personal items such as a toothbrush, eating utensils, drinking glass or towels should be avoided, and clothes, bed linens and towels should be regularly laundered. A cut or sore that appears infected should be examined by a health care professional.


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