Learning About Staph Infection

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What is a staph infection?

Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is a type of bacteria that can cause infections. Staph bacteria normally live on the skin. They don't usually cause problems. They only become a problem when they cause infection. The infection has a higher chance of becoming serious in people who are weak or ill or who are being treated in the hospital. Sometimes staph bacteria can cause more serious widespread infection.

In the hospital, staph infections are more likely to occur in wounds, burns, or places where there is a break in the skin or where tubes enter the body. In the community, these infections are more likely to occur among people who have cuts or wounds and who have close contact with one another.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a staph infection depend on where the infection is. If the infection is:

  • In a wound, that area of your skin may be red or tender.
  • On your skin, you may get a red, tender boil or abscess. You may think you have been bitten by a spider or insect.
  • In your urine, you may have symptoms of a urinary tract infection. These include burning when you urinate.
  • In your blood or more widespread, you may have a fever and feel very ill.

How is a staph infection treated?

The doctor will take a sample of your infected wound or a blood or urine sample. The sample is tested to see which antibiotics can kill the bacteria in it. This test may take several days.

If you have a staph infection, your doctor may:

  • Drain your wound.
  • Give you antibiotics as pills or through a needle put in your vein (I.V.).

You may have to stay in the hospital for treatment. In the hospital, you may be kept apart from others. This is to reduce the chances of spreading the bacteria.

How can you prevent a staph infection?

  • Practice good hygiene.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and clean, running water. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Hand-washing is the best way to avoid spreading the bacteria.
    • Keep cuts and scrapes clean. Cover them with a bandage. Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.
    • Don't share personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, or clothing.
    • Keep your environment clean by using a disinfectant to wipe surfaces you touch a lot. These include countertops, doorknobs, and light switches.
  • Your doctor may give you an ointment to put inside your nose. This is to kill staph bacteria that may cause another infection.
  • Be smart about using antibiotics. Antibiotics can help treat bacterial infections, but they can't cure viral infections. Always ask your doctor if antibiotics are the best treatment.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you're in the hospital, remind doctors and nurses to wash their hands before they touch you.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.