A staph infection occurs when the staphylococcus bacteria gets inside the body.
Around one 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 information on what they are and who is at risk.
Different types of staph skin infection
In most cases, you can avoid developing staph skin infections by using basic hygiene practices.
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 here.
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 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 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.
Treatment of staph skin infections
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.
Some staph aureus, also called golden staph, is resistant to many antibiotics. One serious resistance is to an antibiotic called methicillin and Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) can cause severe infections that cannot be treated with most antibiotics.
As a result of MRSA, doctors have become more cautious about prescribing antibiotics, and people are often warned to only take them if there is a clear need for the medicine. This will help reduce the risks of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.
Read more about MRSA here.
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