Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Scalded Skin Syndrome

What Causes Scalded Skin Syndrome?

Seeing what looks like a burn spread across your skin or a loved one's skin can be traumatic and alarming -- especially when you know a burn hasn't actually occurred. Upon diagnosis of scalded skin syndrome -- which is also known as Ritter von Ritterschein disease -- your confusion may turn to surprise when you learn that the painful condition is actually a staph infection.

Staph infections are caused by different strains of the same bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus. Some strains of the bacteria, such as the one that causes scalded skin syndrome, are toxigenic -- meaning they produce toxins. Scalded skin syndrome occurs when these bacteria release two different exotoxins: epidermolytic toxins A and B, which are commonly referred to as ET-A and ET-B. These exotoxins cause blisters to form and layers of skin to separate and slough off -- giving the appearance of severely burned skin [source: New Zealand Dermatological Society].

While scalded skin syndrome primarily affects children, adults are the ones who carry the bacteria responsible for the infection. In fact, as many as 40 percent of healthy adults may have Staphylococcus aureus on their skin or in their body and not know it. Carriers don't exhibit any symptoms; however, they can pass the bacteria on to others. New mothers can pass the bacteria to their baby while breastfeeding, and adults who work with children can cause outbreaks in nurseries and other childcare facilities [source: King].

Scalded skin syndrome is a life-threatening condition, so it's vital that it be identified quickly. Keep reading to learn what symptoms are associated with the infection.