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.
Read our overview article about staph infections for more infomation on what they are and who’s at risk.
Different types of staph skin infections
In most cases you can avoid developing skin staph infections through basic hygiene.
Any wound, such as a cut or a graze, might become infected with staph bacteria. Your wound may be infected with staph if it is:
- red, swollen and painful
- discharging pus or liquid
- healing slower than usual
- has an unpleasant odour.
Read more about wound care.
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin. You may have cellulitis if you have nausea, shivers and chills, along with skin which is:
- painful to touch
Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS)
SSSS is the most serious skin staph infection. It usually affects babies and children under the age of five, 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 (see image above) 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.
They are quite common around the nose and mouth.
Read more about impetigo.
Staph skin infection treatment
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 also important to make sure that staph infections are not spread to others.
Some staph aureus is resistant to many antibiotics. A serious resistance is to an antibiotic called methicillin and is known as Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), and can cause severe infections unable to be treated by most antibiotics.
As a result of MRSA, doctors have become more cautious about prescribing antibiotics, and people are warned about taking them only if there is a clear need for the medicine. This will help reduce the risks of bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.
Read more about MRSA.
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.
In particular, wash your hands:
- before and after touching or cleaning an infected area
- after going to the bathroom
- after blowing your nose
- before handling and eating food
- after handling animals, including domestic pets.
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 your hands immediately if you come into contact with them
- ensuring their bedding and towels are cleaned daily, with hot water and bleach, before their infection disappears.
When should I get help?
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.
If you are concerned that your child has symptoms of staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS), take them to your doctor as soon as possible or call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
Last reviewed: October 2016