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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

Staphylococcus (staph) skin infections are a range of staph infections specifically affecting the skin. The symptoms of these types of staph infections can range from mild to serious.

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

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

In most cases, you can avoid developing staph skin infections by using basic hygiene practices.

Wound infection

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

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin. You may have cellulitis if you have nausea, shivers and chills, along with skin which is:

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

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

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.

Image of a child with impetigo rash
The impetigo rash can often be found on the face near the mouth and nose.

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.

Antibiotic resistance

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

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Staphylococcus aureus in the community

Staphylococcus aureus are bacteria commonly found on the skin and in the nose of people. Some strains of staphylococci are resistant to the antibiotic methicillin and are known as MRSA. Community acquired strains may be unrelated to hospital MRSA strains.

Read more on NSW Health website

Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus(MRSA)in the community:Info

HomeInfectious DiseaseFactsheetsMethicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in the community: Information for the public

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Parenting and Child Health - Health Topics - Staphylococcus aureus infections

Staphylococci are bacteria (germs) that live on the skin and in the nose of many people without causing infections or illness. The most common type of Staphylococcus to cause infections is Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus). It is called 'aureus', from the Latin word for gold, because the bacteria look a golden colour when grown in a laboratory.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

MRSA

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium (germ) that commonly lives on the skin or in the nose or mouth of people (this is called colonisation). It is often referred to as staph or golden staph.

Read more on WA Health website

Staph wound infections and MRSA - Lab Tests Online AU

Staphylococcus aureus, also calledS. aureusor staph, is abacteriumthat commonlycolonisesthe human skin and is present in the nose of about 25 to 30 per cent of adults.S. aureuscan exist in this form without harming its host or causing symptoms. However, if there is a break in the skin from a wound or surgery or intravenous access device, or if there is a suppression of a person'simmune system, colonisingS. aureuscan cause an infection.

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Impetigo (school sores)

Impetigo is a contagious skin infection caused by Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria.

Read more on WA Health website

Community associated MRSA (CA-MRSA)

When staph becomes resistant to commonly used antibiotics (meaning the antibiotics are no longer effective) it is called methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Read more on WA Health website

Vancomycin - Lab Tests Online AU

This test measures the concentration of vancomycin in the blood. Vancomycin is an antimicrobial that is used to treat serious infections caused by gram-positive bacteria. Developed in the 1950s, vancomycin was originally prescribed primarily when organisms proved resistant to penicillin or when a person was allergic to penicillin. Its use declined with the introduction of other antimicrobials such as methicillin, but has risen again with the emergence of methicillin-resistant strains of Staphylococcus, such as Staphylococcus aureus.

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Boils and Skin Infections

Boils and skin infections are usually caused by bacteria. Avoid sharing items and wash hands thoroughly, especially after touching skin infections.

Read more on NSW Health website

Impetigo - ACD

Impetigo is an infection of the skin that can be passed from person to person. It can affect skin that is intact (known as primary impetigo) or skin that is already compromised with cuts, abrasions, insect bites or other skin conditions such as eczema.

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

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