Staph Infections 101

Symptoms of Staph Infections

Since staph bacteria come in a variety of shapes and sizes, it's no surprise they can cause a wide-ranging collection of problems. Skin infections are the type most often associated with staph, but many different kinds of problems can occur with a staph infection.

Skin infections can range from annoying to painful. Boils are the most common symptom, identified by a painful pocket of pus in a hair follicle around the infected area that will break open and drain pus and blood. Impetigo and scalded skin syndrome most often affect infants and young children with staph infections. Both come with rashes, but impetigo also features blisters usually found around the mouth. In older people, staph infections may manifest as cellulitis, which causes the skin on the legs to redden and itch [source: Hirch].

Staph-related food poisoning comes on quickly and lasts for only a day or two. It's accompanied by cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, and it's contracted when your hands or food are exposed to the staph bacteria by skin contact, coughing or sneezing.

Toxic shock syndrome is often linked to the use of certain types of tampons and causes fever, vomiting, confusion, seizures, headaches and rashes. It's believed to be connected to either fibers cutting into the skin, or by superabsorbent tampons being kept in too long and creating a breeding ground for the bacteria. If left untreated, it can ultimately lead to kidney failure and possibly death [source: Mayo Clinic].

Blood poisoning, or bacteremia, is also an effect of a staph infection and happens when the staph bacteria get into your bloodstream, causing a high fever. These infections can happen in your organs as well, including the heart and lungs.

One other major illness caused by staph is septic arthritis. With this condition, staph bacteria invade the joints and cause swelling, pain, fever and chills. As with the rest of these infections, it's usually contracted when an open wound comes into contact with the staph bacteria.

MRSA, which we've briefly covered already, behaves similarly to many other types of staph infections, with the exception of its superbug immunity to antibiotics. Its symptoms resemble the skin infections listed above, and it is known to cause cellulitis, boils, abscesses, carbuncles or impetigo.

Since the staph bacteria are known to mutate and adapt, antibiotics aren't always useful in treatment. As we'll see in the next section, care is possible, but prevention is the key to keeping the bacteria from spreading at all.