Last updated: August 2, 2017
Staphylococcus aureus (known as “staph”) is a common bacterium that is carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. Approximately 30% of people carry staph bacteria, and most never develop any symptoms. Staph is one of the leading causes of skin infections and when an infection does occur, it is usually mild.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
This is a type of Staphylococcus aureus which is resistant to some antibiotics that are used to treat skin infections. Methicillin, an antibiotic similar to penicillin and amoxacillin, is one of those antibiotics. MRSA was once found mainly in hospital patients, but now it is not uncommon to find MRSA in community settings.
An infection occurs when the staph bacteria enter the skin, usually through cuts, scrapes or other breaks in the skin (such as through tattoos and body piercings). Infections may be in the form of folliculitis (infection around hair follicles), boils, impetigo or abscesses. Skin infections can be red, hot, swollen and tender and have pus or other drainage.
How Staph Spreads
Staph infections are spread by direct physical contact with the bacteria. The contact is frequently skin-to-skin, but it can be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces or personal items. Spread of staph infections has occurred through skin-to-skin contact when playing sports, such as football or wrestling, or from surfaces in gyms and locker rooms. See Staph Infections and Prevention Tips For School and Recreation Staff and Volunteers. Closely confined environments, such as day care centers, homeless shelters and jails, are places where staph infections can spread easily. Spread has also occurred with persons receiving tattoos.
Staph infections are treatable. The treatment may include drainage of the infection site and/or treatment with antibiotics. There are antibiotics available for all forms of staph infections, including MRSA.
- Wash Your Hands. Clean hands frequently with soap and water. Use alcohol-based sanitizers if hand washing facilities are not available. See Hand Washing.
- Do Not Share Personal Items such as towels, soap, clothing and razors.
- Keep All Wounds Clean and Covered, including skin cuts, scrapes and breaks.
- Perform Routine Cleaning at Home. Use a disinfectant product or a bleach solution (1/4 cup bleach per 1 gallon water).
- Seek Medical Attention for symptoms of a skin infection.