Invasive staph infections
Invasive staphylococchus (staph) infections, although far less common than staph skin infections, are usually more severe. There are many types of invasive staph infections.
Staph bacteria are commonly found even in healthy individuals either on the surface of their skin or in their nose, and in most cases they do not cause any problems.
A staph infection occurs when the staphylococcus bacteria gets inside the body.
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.
People more at risk of an invasive staph infection include those who have a chronic disease such as diabetes or a severe illness, who have weakened immune systems from cancer treatment or having a transplant, who have open wounds or an invasive medical device such as a catheter, or who have been taking antibiotics for a long time.
Symptoms of invasive staph infections
A staph infection in the lungs can cause pneumonia. You may have pneumonia if you have:
- difficulty breathing
- rapid breathing
- a temperature of 38°C or over
- been feeling generally unwell
- chest pain
Read more about pneumonia here.
Septic arthritis occurs when staphylococcal bacteria infect 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 around the joint
- a temperature over 38°C
- a loss of movement in the joint
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 or shivering
- have a rapid heartbeat
- have trouble breathing or rapid breathing
- are dizzy
- are confused or disorientated
- have slurred speech
- have muscle pain
- are drowsy
- have reduced urination
- have discoloured skin
Children with sepsis can deteriorate very quickly. The signs of sepsis in a child include:
- confusion, slurred speech, disorientation or reduced consciousness
- convulsions or fits
- rapid 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 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 here.
Toxic shock syndrome
Toxic shock syndrome is very rare and occurs when staph bacteria enter the bloodstream and release poisons. In some people, these poisons can lead to organ and tissue damage. Toxic shock syndrome can affect anybody but are most common in women when they are having their period.
You may have Toxic shock syndrome if you are feeling very unwell and:
- have a temperature that starts suddenly
- are vomiting
- are feeling faint
You may also:
Endocarditis occurs when staph bacteria infect one of the valves inside the heart. It is a serious and life-threatening 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
- weakness and extreme tiredness
- chest pain
- blood spots in the eyes or bleeding underneath the fingernails or toenails
- red spots on the palms
- painful lumps on the fingertips or toes
- swelling in the feet or ankles
Food poisoning could occur when you eat food containing staph bacteria or the toxins they produce. 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.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: August 2020