A staph infection occurs when the staphylococcus bacteria gets inside the body.
Around a third of people carry staph bacteria either on the surface of their skin or in their nose, and in most cases it does not cause any problems. However, if it does enter the body the bacteria might multiply, which could lead to an infection.
People more at risk of an invasive staph infection include those with diabetes who use insulin, HIV/AIDS, kidney failure requiring dialysis, weakened immune systems, cancer, especially those who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, skin damage, for example from eczema, insect bites or minor cuts, and respiratory illnesses. There is also a higher risk if you have been in hospital, have an invasive medical device, play contact sports or eat food that has not been prepared in sanitary conditions.
Different types of invasive staph infections
A staph infection in your lungs can cause pneumonia. You may have pneumonia if you have:
- difficulty breathing
- a rapid heart beat
- a temperature of 38°C or over
- been feeling generally unwell.
You might also have some chest pain.
Read more about pneumonia.
Septic arthritis occurs when staphylococcal bacteria infects a joint. It is more common in people with a low immune system.
You may have septic arthritis if you are experiencing:
- pain and swelling in your joint
- red and tender skin
- a temperature over 38°C
- a loss of movement in your joint.
Read more about septic arthritis.
Sepsis is also known as blood poisoning. The condition is a medical emergency and occurs when staph bacteria infects the bloodstream.
If you are concerned that you or someone else has symptoms of sepsis, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
You may have sepsis if you are feeling very unwell and:
- have a temperature
- have a rapid heartbeat
- are breathing fast
- are dizzy
- are confused or disorientated
- have reduced urine output.
Read more about sepsis.
Osteomyelitis is an infection within the bone. While it can affect any bone, it is more common in the arms and legs in children, and in the back and pelvis in adults.
Osteomyelitis can be difficult to detect, but you may have it if you have:
- a temperature
- severe bone pain
- red, warm tender skin at the site of the pain
- restricted movement of a joint.
Read more about osteomyelitis.
Toxic shock syndrome
Toxic shock syndrome is very rare and occurs when staph bacteria enters the bloodstream and releases poisons. In some people these poisons can lead to organ and tissue damage. Toxic Shock Syndrome can affect anybody and can be associated with the use of tampons.
You may have Toxic shock syndrome if you are feeling very unwell and:
You may also:
Read more about toxic shock syndrome.
Endocarditis occurs when staph bacteria infect one of the valves inside the heart. It is a serious condition. It is more common in people who have problems with their heart valves, but it can happen to anyone.
You may have endocarditis if you develop the symptoms below, either gradually over several weeks or quickly over a few days:
- a temperature accompanied by chills and night sweats
- muscle aches and pains
- shortness of breath
- unexplained weight loss
- low blood pressure
- dizziness standing up due to low blood pressure
- weakness and extreme tiredness.
Read more about endocarditis.
Staphylococcal food poisoning
Staphylococcal food poisoning could occur when you eat food with staph bacteria or the toxins they produce in it. It usually develops fairly quickly after eating contaminated food. You may have staphylococcal food poisoning if you:
How do I avoid getting an invasive staph infection?
If you are at risk of developing an invasive staph infection, it is important to have a healthy lifestyle - a healthy diet, regular exercise, minimising alcohol and avoiding smoking and illicit drugs.
Washing your hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom, before and after preparing food and after being in a crowded area can also reduce your risk of developing the condition.
Ways to avoid food poisoning
You can avoid food poisoning by ensuring that high standards of food hygiene are maintained throughout the cooking process.
When cooking keep hands, work surfaces and cooking utensils clean.
Wash hands before preparing food and after:
- going to the bathroom
- touching raw food
- touching bins
- handling pets.
Avoid handling food if you are ill, particularly with stomach problems or if you have open sores and cuts.
Cooking food properly
Meat should be cooked right through. If you reheat food, make sure it is hot all the way through. Never reheat food more than once.
Chilling food properly
Food needs to be kept at the right temperature to prevent harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Food that needs to be refrigerated should always be stored in the fridge, which should be set at 0-5°C.
Always check the label on the packaging for the correct storage instructions.
Cooked leftovers should not be left out to cool for more than an hour before being put in the fridge or freezer.
Cross-contamination can occur when bacteria is transferred from one food (usually a raw food) to another food.
This can happen when the contaminated food is in direct contact with the other food, or when bacteria from contaminated food is spread through hands, utensils, work surfaces to other foods.
You can avoid cross-contaminating food by:
- always washing your hands after touching raw food
- storing raw foods separately to other foods
- storing raw meat in sealed containers and keeping the containers at the bottom of the fridge, so that it cannot leak onto other food
- using a separate chopping board for raw food and other food, or washing chopping boards thoroughly between uses
- cleaning utensils thoroughly after using them for raw food
- not washing raw meat or poultry, as washing may spray harmful bacteria around the kitchen.
When should I get help?
Invasive staph infections could be life threatening. If you have symptoms of an invasive staph infection, see your doctor as soon as possible or call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
Last reviewed: October 2016