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Washing hands thoroughly with soap and running water can help you avoid staph skin infections.

Washing hands thoroughly with soap and running water can help you avoid staph skin infections.
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Staph skin infection

4-minute read

What are staph skin infections?

Staph infections on the skin include wound infection, cellulitis, staphylococcus scalded skin syndrome (SSSS) and impetigo.

A staph infection of the skin occurs when the staphylococcus bacteria gets inside the body and affects the skin.

Many people carry a lot of different strains of staph bacteria either on the surface of their skin or in their nose, and in most cases they do not cause any problems.

If you are concerned that your child has a high temperature and painful red skin that looks like it has been scalded or is peeling off, take them to your doctor as soon as possible or call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

What are the symptoms of a staph skin infection?

The symptoms of these types of staph infections can range from mild to serious.

Wound infection

Any wound, such as a cut or a graze, might become infected with staph bacteria. A wound may be infected with staph if it is:

  • red, swollen and painful
  • discharging pus or liquid which may be honey coloured and crusty
  • healing slower than usual
  • has an unpleasant smell

Read more about wound care here.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a spreading inflammation of the skin and the tissues directly beneath it. It needs to be treated with antibiotics. Symptoms of cellulitis include nausea, shivers and chills, along with skin which is:

  • red
  • painful to touch
  • hot
  • swollen
  • tender

Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS)

Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS) is the most serious staph skin infection. It usually affects babies and children under the age of 5, and occurs when the staph bacteria release a poison that damages the skin. This makes the skin look like it has been burned with boiling water.

Your child may have SSSS if they are feeling unwell with:

  • a temperature over 38°C
  • skin which is painful to touch
  • skin that has a burnt appearance or is peeling off

Impetigo

Impetigo is also known as ‘school sores’ and is a very contagious skin infection that affects children and infants.

Your child may have impetigo if they have itchy sores or blisters which have a yellow or brown crust after they rupture.

The impetigo rash can be anywhere on the body but is quite common around the nose and mouth.

Read more about impetigo here.

How are staph skin infections treated?

Most staph skin infections are treated with a course of antibiotics.

Simple ones can be treated at home. Serious ones need to be treated in hospital with intravenous antibiotics and other treatments.

It is important to make sure that staph infections are not spread to others.

When should I see my doctor?

If you suspect that you have a staph skin infection, it's important to see your doctor as soon as possible.

Severe staph skin infections, like staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS), may need to be treated in hospital.

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How do I avoid getting a staph skin infection?

In most cases you can avoid developing a staph skin infection through basic hygiene. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water and dry them with a clean towel, or disposable paper towel.

If you live with someone who has a staph skin infection you may be able to avoid developing the condition by not sharing any personal items with them such as toothbrushes, towels, clothes and linen, washing their towels and bed linen every day, and washing your hands immediately if you come into contact with them.

Children with impetigo should not go to school or pre-school for 48 hours after they have started antibiotics and then only if all the sores are covered with watertight dressings.

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

Last reviewed: August 2020


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