Staphylococcus Aureus: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment you should know
Staphylococcus. Photo: Science Photo Library

What is Staphylococcus Aureus?

Staphylococcus Aureus is a bacteria that belongs to the staphylococci family. This bacteria is gram-positive, meaning that they have a thick outer layer made of peptidoglycan.

Staphylococcus bacterias are commonly found in our body in the upper respiratory tracts. This type of bacteria is not commonly harmful, however, Staphylococcus Aureus is one of the most dangerous of the batch. Our body retains a lot of microbes inside the body for various purposes. There are bacterias in the intestine that are responsible for helping with digestion.

Staphylococcus bacterias, however, does not serve any of these symbiotic purposes and usually linger about on the skin and inside the nasal cavities.

Staphylococcus Aureus has the potential to cause a wide range of diseases that are mild and threatening based on the inpidual. The bacteria even has the ability to cause serious medical conditions such as pneumonia and sepsis.

As Medlife articles, even though these skin conditions are not dangerous, if the bacteria enters the bloodstream it can cause serious infections in major organs and cause conditions such as pneumonia and sepsis. If you suspect that there are lesions or marks on your skin that are usually caused by staph infections, before resorting to self-medication please ensure that you see a doctor and make sure that the infection has not spread to your bloodstream.

A specific strain of Staphylococcus Aureus known as MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is a dangerous form of bacteria that is resistant to methicillin and other drugs that belong to the same class.

Staphylococcus Aureus: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Staphylococcus Aureus virus. Photo: Microscope Master

Symptoms of Staphylococcus Aureus Infections:

Staph infections usually present with a fair set of identifiable symptoms. It’s very uncommon to conduct tests to diagnose a staph infection in the early stages. Some of the symptoms of staph infections are listed below. Issues on the layers of skin are the first signs of staph infections

  • Abscess: Identifying an abscess is very easy. It usually occurs at a site of injury and forms puss filled pockets of infection. The surrounding area of the abscess will be red and swollen. The person can experience a copious amount of pain when he/she tries to get a feel of the swollen area. You can also notice that the skin around the abscess will be slightly warmer than normal body temperature.

  • Cellulitis: Cellulitis is a grave infection of the inner layers of the skin. It is usually characterised by a lot of pain and discomfort. Cellulitis occurs as a result of a cut or an abrasion on the skin which may be minute or invisible but still acts as a gateway for the bacteria to enter the inner layers of the skin. Cellulitis presents itself with a certain redness and visible swelling at the site of infection, it can occur anywhere on the body but is most commonly observed in the legs and hands.

  • Boils: Boils are yet another common symptom of staph infection. Boils are puss filled inflations that usually appears around a hair follicle or an oil gland and presents itself with a redness, swelling and a fair amount of pain. It usually occurs under the arms or around the groin or buttocks.

  • Impetigo: Impetigo is a classic symptom of Staphylococcus Aureus infection. It can be identified upon observing a large painful rash featuring blisters that ooze and usually develops a honey-coloured crust around the site of infection

  • Staphylococcal Scalded Skin: Staphylococcal Scalded Skin syndrome is caused by Staphylococcus Aureus affecting the cement that holds the multiple layers of the skin together. The condition is characterized by the infection causing the skin to lose its first layer portraying a red, burn like look to the point of infection. This symptom is more commonly observed among children and babies.

  • Food Infection: Food Infections are most often caused due to staph infections and can be easily treated. Symptoms of food infections caused due to staph infections include nausea, vomiting, dehydration and diarrhoea.

Please remember that if the bacteria has successfully entered your bloodstream these symptoms may differ in accordance with the specific organ the Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria affects.

Causes of Staphylococcus Aureus Infections:

Staphylococcus Aureus is just another bacteria that belongs to the staphylococci class and settles in the body and nose of any inpidual. The dangers of this bacteria are only known once it infects your skin or bloodstream. Many people associate staph infection to poor personal hygiene, however, maintaining personal hygiene can also not guarantee that you will be free from staph infections. Some of the leading causes and risk factors for staph infections are given below.

1. Pre-existing Medical Conditions:

Pre-existing medical conditions can be a cause for a staph infection to occur. Certain medical conditions such as Diabetes which requires insulin intake or kidney malfunction which requires dialysis can act as a great risk factor to the development of staph infection. Other pre-existing medical conditions such as HIV can also lead to a weakening of the immune system causing the defenses to fail against the attacks from Staphylococcus Aureus.

Cancer patients undergoing treatments involving chemotherapy is also at a higher risk of being affected by staph infections as the medicines take a toll on their overall health and immunity.

2. Recent Cuts or Bruises on Skin:

A cut or a bruise on your skin can act as a leading factor for causing a staph infection. The Staphylococcus Aureus is a very sturdy bacteria and can survive for long without a host body. The bacteria’s ability to mitigate these risks and keep itself alive in a long run makes it extremely deadly. A small cut or bruise could act as a gateway for the bacteria to enter the bloodstream or the epidermal layer of the skin. The bacteria could remain dormant on non animated surfaces and can immediately pop up to action once its active in the bloodstream.

3. Recent Hospitalization:

Hospitals are one of the most prominent places teeming with Staphylococcus Aureus. Even though every hospital takes extra care to make every nook and corner infection free, the sturdy nature of the bacteria makes it impossible to completely get rid of it. In hospitals, the Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria gets the chance to infect people with weak immune systems and patients suffering from surface wounds or burns.

4. Invasive Medical Apparatus:

Invasive medical apparatus if not sterilized properly can be a sure shot reason for being affected by a staph infection. The hard outer layer of the bacteria makes it really hard to be removed with normal methods. This makes the chances of a staph infection after undergoing invasive medical procedures really high. Staphylococcus Aureus if introduced to the bloodstream through such methods can be really harmful as the chances for a staph infection and the amount of bacteria entering your system is high.

5. Contact Sport:

Sports that involve a lot of physical activities that are athletic and involve a lot of contact between the people playing it. Certain sports that involve a lot of touching between skin and sweat along with the chances of blood spill is highly dangerous since the chances of Staphylococcus Aureus infections are high.

6. Unhygienic Food:

Food that is prepared without proper sanitation and in places that lack basic hygiene can be a contributing factor that can cause a staph infection. Eating food from unknown sources should be avoided if you are trying to steer clear of Staphylococcus Aureus infection. Staph infection through food can also be caused if the person preparing the food does not properly wash his/her hands and fails the standards for basic personal hygiene.

Staphylococcus Aureus Infections: Types of Diseases

Staph infections can occur anytime and anywhere. Usually, it’s the skin that first shows the symptoms of a staph infection, but that does not mean that staphylococcus could not infect other location in the body. The other common types of Staphylococcus Aureus infections are listed below.

  • Mastitis: Mastitis is a form of breast infection that is brought about by Staphylococcus Aureus. This condition usually occurs 2 to 3 weeks after delivering the baby. This painful condition is often accompanied by abscess and cellulitis. The abscess can infect the mother’s milk considerably and thereby spread the infection to the infant. Mastitis makes it incredibly difficult for mothers to continue with breastfeeding denying the baby the essential nutrients that are important in the early stages of infancy. If you notice redness and swelling around the nipples of the breast it’s best that you get it immediately checked out to avoid putting your baby’s health at risk.

  • Pneumonia: Pneumonia is an infection to the lungs. Staphylococcus Aureus can affect your lungs badly causing pneumonia at a swift pace. Pneumonia is characterized by high fever with extreme coughing and sputum that are often mixed with blood. The abscesses caused due to a staph infection in the lungs can sometimes affect the membranes inside the skull and can even lead to the accumulation of pus causing empyema. Patients affected with pneumonia often find it difficult to breathe or engage in demanding physical activities.

  • Bloodstream Infection: Bloodstream infection by Staphylococcus Aureus is a dangerous implication of staph infection. Once infected the bacteria could find its way to any organs through the bloodstream. Bloodstream infection is one of the leading causes of death in patients suffering from extensive burns. The symptoms of staph infection in the bloodstream are characterized by a high fever which does not leave and occasional shocks. This uncontrolled spreading of Staphylococcus Aureus to the bloodstream is termed as staphylococcal bacteremia or sepsis.

  • Endocarditis: Endocarditis is the term used to broadly define infections in the heart valve. This could be a very dangerous condition that could lead to the death of the inpidual due to heart failure. Endocarditis can happen due to bloodstream infection spreading to the heart and other organs or sometimes due to explorative surgery that included the insertion of stents or pacemakers which could be infected with Staphylococcus Aureus on the surface.

  • Osteomyelitis: Osteomyelitis is a serious medical condition that can be caused by Staphylococcus Aureus. Its an infection that affects bones caused by the bacteria, the result is serious inflammation of the affected bones. In osteomyelitis, the skin around the infected bones will start showing symptoms such as redness and swelling and cause extreme pain. In some cases, the Staphylococcus Aureus also infect a joint causing pus collection in these spaces. This condition is known as septic arthritis.

  • Thrombophlebitis: Thrombophlebitis is caused when Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria successfully infects the vein of the patient. This highly painful condition is caused mostly in hospitals when the patient has to undergo the process of the catheter providing a direct opening for the bacteria to infect the vein.

  • Toxic Shock Syndrome: Toxic shock syndrome is the effect of Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria multiplying under anaerobic conditions. In simple terms, this means that when the bacteria grow in conditions where the amount of oxygen is considerably low the Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria secrete harmful toxins. The condition is highly common in women who are menstruating. The symptoms of toxic shock syndrome include a surprisingly swift high fever which may be accompanied by additional conditions such as diarrhea and very evident muscle aches. One can also notice a sudden drop in blood pressure in patients suffering from toxic shock syndrome.

Staphylococcus Aureus Treatments:

Antibiotics are the most used form of treatment used to treat patients affected with Staphylococcus Aureus infection. The efficiency of this type of medication is fairly high. Most staph infections can be treated with antibiotics. In some extreme cases where the bacteria has already entered the bloodstream and has started to infect the internal organs, advanced treatment methods such as intravenous antibiotic injections are given and the patient is kept at the hospital and the organ vitals are constantly checked.

In some complicated cases such as osteomyelitis, the infected bone of the inpidual may be removed to prevent the spread of the infection. This is, however, a very rare requirement only executed when it’s absolutely necessary. Surgical methods such as draining of the pus are often carried out during the treatment of Staphylococcus Aureus infections. Skin infections caused due to Staphylococcus Aureus is commonly treated with ointments which are a mix of 3 powerful antibiotics.

Some prominent antibiotics widely used for the treatment of Staphylococcus Aureus infections are given below:

  • Cefazolin

  • Cefuroxime

  • Cephalexin

  • Nafcillin (Nallpen)

  • Oxacillin (Bactocill)

  • Dicloxacillin

  • Vancomycin

Treatment for an MRSA infection

If you get an MRSA infection, you'll usually be treated with antibiotics that work against MRSA.

These may be taken as tablets or given as injections. Treatment can last a few days to a few weeks.

During treatment, you may need to stay in your own room or in a ward with other people who have an MRSA infection to help stop it from spreading.

You can normally still have visitors, but it's important they take precautions to prevent MRSA from spreading.

Preventing MRSA

As advice of NSH, if you're staying in hospital, there are some simple things you can do to reduce your risk of getting or spreading MRSA.

You should:

  • wash your hands often (hand wipes and alcohol hand gel are also effective) – especially before and after eating and after going to the toilet
  • follow the advice you're given about wound care and looking after devices that could lead to infection (such as urinary catheters or drips)
  • report any unclean facilities to staff – do not be afraid to talk to staff if you're concerned about hygiene

If you're visiting someone in hospital, clean your hands before and after entering the ward and before touching the person. Gel or wipes are often placed by patients' beds and at the entrance to wards.

It's also a good idea to put a dressing over any breaks in your skin, such as sores or cuts, to stop MRSA getting into your body.

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