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Staphylococcus (Staph) Infections: Symptoms, Risks & Treatment

Staphylococcus (Staph) Infections: Symptoms, Risks & Treatment

Staph Infection

What is a Staph Infection?

Staph infections result from Staphylococcus aureus (staph), a family of bacteria that cause a multitude of diseases. Staph bacteria commonly live on the body already — on the skin and in the nose and armpit — without causing infection, even in healthy individuals. But the bacteria cause infection when they manage to invade the body through punctured skin or through the gut from contaminated food (x).

If someone harbors the bacteria without showing symptoms, they act as a carrier and can spread them to other people. Most staph germs spread through skin-to-skin contact. Staph infections can take many forms, varying in symptoms and severity. Infections can be mild skin reactions or life-threatening disorders (x).

Types of Staph Infections

Staph infections present themselves in different ways. They can cause skin infections, food poisoning, bloodstream infections, endocarditis, pneumonia and toxic shock syndrome (TSS) (x, x, x).

Skin Infections


Folliculitis is an infection in the hair follicles in which minute white-headed pimples surface at the base of hair shafts. Aside from an itch and slight pain, the person does not feel sick (x).


Cellulitis is a deeper infection under the skin’s surface. It causes red, painful swelling on the skin and sometimes ulcers that ooze open with discharge (x).


This is the most common form of a staph infection. A boil is a swollen, red, painful lump filled with pus that forms in an infected hair follicle or oil gland. Boils mostly develop where small hairs are easily irritated, such as around the buttocks, groin and under the arms (x, x).


Impetigo is most common in children. It is a painful rash with a crust coating that oozes fluid (x).

Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome

This condition mostly affects infants or babies, characterized by fever, a rash and blisters that rupture and expose a new surface that looks similar to a burn (x).

Food Poisoning

Staph bacteria cause most cases of food poisoning. Symptoms include dehydration, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure and diarrhea. They usually appear and disappear quickly (x).

Bloodstream Infections

When staph bacteria enters the bloodstream, it interferes with vital organs like the heart, brain and lungs. It can also affect the bones and muscles. The symptoms include fever and low blood pressure (x, x).


Endocarditis attacks the inner lining of the heart and interferes with normal blood flow, causing damage to the kidneys and lungs. It can cause symptoms like congestive heart failure (x).


When bacteria enters the lungs or the tissues around them, it causes pneumonia. Usually the lungs can defend themselves against these bacteria when someone inhales them. But if the defense mechanisms are not functioning properly or if the individual inhales too many bacteria, the lungs can get infected (x).

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)

TSS is a life-threatening condition caused by toxins from staph bacteria. Symptoms include diarrhea, confusion, fever, abdominal pain, muscle aches and a rash on your hands and feet. The bacteria can spread after surgery, from skin wounds and from wearing specific types of tampons for long periods of time (x).

Septic Arthritis

When staph bacteria target the joints and cause inflammation, it leads to septic arthritis. Symptoms include fever, pain, and swelling in the joints (x).

Risk Factors for Staph Infections

Staph bacteria live naturally on the body and do not usually cause complications. However, there are certain factors and behaviors that allow the bacteria into the body to cause infection.

Health Conditions

Certain health conditions can increase the risk of developing a staph infection, as well as the methods that treat them. Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, dialysis for kidney failure, lung disorders, respiratory illnesses, autoimmune disorders and cancer that requires chemotherapy are all risk factors that increase the risk of staph infection. People with open wounds such as burns, cuts, stitches and incisions are also at risk if they are not cleaned or treated properly (x, x).


Staph bacteria are found in hospitals, putting current or recent patients at risk for infection, especially those with weak immune systems, burns or surgical wounds. Even if you are not a patient, spending time in hospitals where the bacteria can spread from one patient to another is a risk factor (x).

Contaminated Food

Although it looks and tastes normal, food with toxins from staph bacteria causes food poisoning. If food isn’t stored properly it can become a breeding ground for staph bacteria. And if food handlers don’t wash their hands properly, it can transfer from their skin to the food (x).

Invasive Devices

If someone has an artificial device or joint in their bodies, staph bacteria can form around them and penetrate the bloodstream through surgical incisions. Devices like dialysis tubes, catheters and feeding and breathing tubes can allow bacteria into the body (x).

Prolonged Tampon Use

Failing to change tampons regularly could cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS). When it is left in too long, the tampon can harbor staph bacteria and let it into the bloodstream as a result of vaginal irritation from the tampons (x).

Staph Infection Risk Factors

Treatment for Staph Infections

Doctors use a physical exam to observe the patient’s symptoms and diagnose a staph infection (x). They may also use a blood, urine, imaging or culture test depending on the type of infection.

Antibiotics treat staph infection. They may be a cream, oral, ointment or intravenous medication (x). Nafcillin, sulfa drugs and vancomycin are common prescriptions to treat the infection (x). However, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is immune to some antibiotics. Without treatment, MRSA can develop into sepsis (x).

See Also

If the infection affects the skin, the doctor will open up the wound in order to drain any fluid and reduce inflammation. But if the infection enters the body through an invasive device or affects a bone, it needs to be removed immediately (x, x).

Natural Remedies

There are also natural treatments that research claims are effective in treating staph infection. For example, coconut oil will help boost the immune system so that it will be able to fight off infections. It also has strong antibacterial properties and can treat infections (x, x). Tea tree oil and oregano oil are also known for their anti-inflammatory and antibacterial functions that have been effective in treating wounds such as staph infections (x, x).

Preventing Staph Infections

There are precautions to take to avoid staph infections and keep the bacteria from entering the body (x, x).

  • Clean and bandage open cuts, wounds, burns and rashes
  • Handle and store food properly
  • Practice good hygiene and wash hands regularly
  • Reduce tampon risk by using low absorbency and changing them frequently
  • Boost the immune system with supplements like zinc, antioxidants like vitamin C and antiviral herbs like astragalus and calendula

Supplements for Staph Infections

Cranberry Extract Powder

Packed with essential nutrients, cranberry extract has antioxidants and helps support bladder health. As a dietary supplement, take 400 mg of cranberry extract powder one to three times a day with water.

Dandelion Root Extract Powder

Although researchers are still searching for evidence, dandelion root is used in food and drinks to promote overall health. The recommended dosage is 1,000 mg twice a day.

Garlic Extract Powder

The active ingredient in garlic is allicin, which has antibacterial properties. Garlic extract also has B and C vitamins. The recommended serving size is 650 mg twice a day with food.

Echinacea Extract Powder

With anti-inflammatory properties, echinacea extract helps support the immune system and overall health. Take 450 mg once or twice a day.

Grapefruit Seed Extract

A multipurpose supplement, grapefruit seed extract is known for its antioxidant properties and can promote gastrointestinal health. Take 250 mg twice daily.

The Bottom Line

Staph infections are caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The bacteria live on the skin naturally, usually without harm. But it causes infection if it enters the body. Risk factors for infection include hospitalization, surgery, contaminated food, a weakened immune system and prolonged tampon use. The bacteria can cause skin infections, food poisoning, bloodstream infections, endocarditis, pneumonia or toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Staph infections can affect the lungs, skin, joints, bones and blood vessels.

Staph infections can be prevented with behaviors like washing hands, proper food handling and storage, cleaning and bandaging wounds and reducing tampon use and absorbency. Supplements and essential oils like oregano, tea tree oil and coconut oil can also help.

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