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Invasive staph infections

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Invasive staphylococcus (staph) infections happen when bacteria get inside your body.
  • Some people are at greater risk of invasive staph infections.
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotics used to treat them.
  • You can help avoid an invasive staph infection through good hygiene and a healthy lifestyle.

What is an invasive staph infection?

Invasive staphylococcus aureus (staph) infections happen when bacteria get inside your body.

Staph bacteria are often found on your skin or in your nose. Even healthy people can have staph bacteria on their skin. It usually doesn’t cause any problems.

Invasive staph infection happens when staph bacteria get inside your body. If bacteria get into your blood stream or lungs it can be very serious.

Invasive staph infections are not as common as staph skin infections.

Some sicknesses or conditions can mean a higher risk of getting an invasive staph infection. Such as people who have:

  • a chronic disease such as diabetes
  • a weakened immune system — from cancer treatment or having a transplant
  • open wounds
  • a medical device like a catheter
  • been taking antibiotics for a long time

What are the symptoms of invasive staph infections?

Read the list of symptoms of ‘invasive‘ staph infection below. If you have these symptoms you need to seek medical care as soon as possible. Call your doctor or call triple-zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.


A staph infection in the lungs can cause pneumonia. You may have pneumonia if you have:

Read more about pneumonia here.

Septic arthritis

Septic arthritis happens when the staph bacteria infect a joint inside your body. This might happen in your knee, shoulder or hip joint. It’s more common in people with a weakened immune system.

You may have septic arthritis if you are have:

Septicaemia and sepsis

Septicaemia is when bacteria enter your blood and cause blood poisoning.

Sepsis is your body’s response to this infection. It can cause tissue damage, organ failure and death. This is a medical emergency. It happens when staph bacteria infect your bloodstream.

If you are worried that you or someone else has sepsis, call triple zero (000). Ask for an ambulance.

You may have sepsis if you are feeling very unwell and:

  • have a temperature or shivering
  • have a fast heartbeat
  • have trouble breathing or fast breathing
  • are dizzy
  • are confused or disorientated
  • have slurred speech
  • have muscle pain
  • are drowsy
  • are urinating (peeing) less than usual
  • have discoloured skin

Children with sepsis can get very sick very quickly. The signs of sepsis in a child include:

  • confusion, slurred speech, disorientation or reduced consciousness
  • convulsions or fits
  • fast or abnormal breathing
  • discoloured skin, very pale or bluish
  • a rash that doesn’t fade when you press it
  • fever OR very low temperature
  • not passing urine (or no wet nappy) for several hours
  • vomiting repeatedly
  • not feeding


Osteomyelitis is an infection inside your bone. It can affect any bone. However, it’s more common in the arms and legs in children, and in the back and pelvis in adults.

Osteomyelitis can be hard to detect. You may have it if you have:

  • a temperature
  • severe bone pain
  • red, warm tender skin at the site of the pain
  • difficulty moving a joint

Read more about osteomyelitis here.

Toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome is very rare. It happens when staph bacteria get into your bloodstream and release poisons. In some people, these poisons can lead to organ and tissue damage.

Toxic shock syndrome can affect anybody. It can happen in females who use tampons when they are having their period.

You may have toxic shock syndrome if you are feeling very unwell and:

You may also:


Endocarditis happens when staph bacteria infect one of the valves inside the heart. It’s serious and life-threatening. It’s 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:

  • a temperature accompanied by chills and night sweats
  • muscle aches and pains
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • headache
  • weakness and extreme tiredness
  • chest pain
  • blood spots in your eyes or bleeding underneath your fingernails or toenails
  • red spots on the palms of your hands
  • painful lumps on your fingertips or toes
  • swelling in your feet or ankles

The symptoms can come gradually over several weeks or quickly over a few days.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)?

The most common staph infection is caused by bacteria called Staph aureus.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotics used to treat them.

Usual antibiotics don’t work to treat MRSA. An MRSA infection is very serious.

Due to MRSA, doctors are now more cautious about prescribing antibiotics. You should only use antibiotics when you really need them. This can help to reduce the risk of bacteria becoming resistant.

When should I see my doctor?

See your doctor if:

  • you have a fever
  • you feel very unwell

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.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How do I avoid getting an invasive staph infection?

It’s important to have a healthy lifestyle. This includes:

You can lower your chance of getting an invasive staph infection by:

Resources and support

You can find out more about antibiotic resistance on the Australian Government Antimicrobial Resistance webpage.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2023

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