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When Bacteria Go Rogue: Taking Care of Staph Infections

We live in a literal soup of bacteria every day of our lives. Bacteria of many varieties are present on faucets, sinks, toilets, bathtubs, kitchen counters, railings, and (in surprisingly high concentrations) escalator handrails.  

Not only are we walking on and touching bacteria-laden surfaces all the time, but our bodies also play host to a microscopic ecosystem of billions of bacteria cells. Most of the bacteria on our bodies are either helpful (like our gut and mucous membrane biomes) or harmless at worst.  

Occasionally, some types of bacteria can overwhelm our immune systems and make us sick.  In this article, we will be deconstructing a bacteria known as Staphylococcus Aureus, or “staph,” so you’ll know what to look for, when to seek help, and how to prevent a staph infection. If you catch this one, you might be wondering how to get rid of a staph infection.

At Nually, our goal is to educate you about a variety of health and wellness challenges.  

Staph Overview

Staph is a very hardy “bug” and is typically present on healthy individuals on the skin and in the nose. Occasionally, existing staph can cause a minor skin infection or “hang out” with us without ever causing any symptoms.

Staph is so tough that it can even survive all of the following environments:

  • Your dryer

  • High-salt environments

  • Stomach acid

  • Extreme heat or cold

How Does Staph go from Passenger to Hijacker?

Though staph bacteria is often harmless on surfaces, if this germ gets past the skin, like through a cut, abrasion, or more serious wound, it can cause a lot of problems.  Here are some of the most common staph infections and the symptoms that go with the type of infection:

  • Boils: fluid or pus-filled red bumps of varying size and severity on the skin surface, usually on folds of skin like armpits, groin, or buttock crease.

  • Cellulitis: staph infection that goes deeper into the skin.  Skin is usually red, swollen, and may develop open sores or ulcers that ooze fluid.

  • Impetigo:  a contagious skin infection that causes skin rash and blisters that may burst and crust over.

Staph can also catch a ride inside our bodies by way of food poisoning.  The classic symptoms of a staph infection in the gut are:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Nausea

  • Dehydration

  • Low blood pressure.

Thankfully, this type of infection is usually as quick as it is nasty---arriving hours after eating contaminated food (watch out for that potato salad left out on the sunny picnic table) and leaving after half a day of gut symptoms.

Other forms of internal staph infections include:

  • Septic arthritis: joint swelling and pain in fingers, toes, hips, knees, and shoulders, sometimes accompanied by fever.

  • Septicemia: infection in the blood which can also move into deep tissues like bones, muscles, and internal organs.  (This one is a doozy!)

Women Should be Especially Careful

Staph can enter the body or multiply rapidly through menstruation products like tampons and, in rare cases, cause Toxic Shock Syndrome. This potentially life-threatening infection is marked by:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Fever

  • Confusion

  • Muscle pain

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • A sunburn-like rash on the palms and soles of the feet

How to Get Rid of Staph Infections

Though staph can cause some severe damage once it gets to the infection stage, the best staph infection offense starts with good defense.  Do the following, and you’ll lessen your chances of picking up an infection in the first place:

  • Wash your hands, with soap, for longer than you think you need to.  (Before meals, after visiting the bathroom.)  Count slowly to twenty while you are sudsing.

  • Wash shared items like sheets and towels in hot water, and machine dry with higher heat

  • Use a bleach cleaner of 1:10 bleach/water ratio on hard surfaces

  • Keep your personal items to yourself and do not share razors, towels, pillows.  Staph can survive for long periods on these surfaces and transfer from person to person.

  • Keep hot foods hot (over 140 degrees)  and cold foods cold (under 40 degrees) when serving

  • Change tampons frequently--set a timer or place a reminder in a visible place--and replace at least every 8 hours.

Who Can Get Staph Infections?

Anyone can develop a staph infection of variable severity.  Some people have a higher risk of disease. You should be extra diligent on the staph-defense strategy if you:

  • Have a compromised immune system, as with HIV/AIDS 

  • Use insulin via injection

  • Are on dialysis

  • Take any immunosuppressive drugs

  • Have a skin condition like eczema or psoriasis

  • Have respiratory challenges like cystic fibrosis or emphysema

  • Have a surgical wound

  • Have had a recent burn

  • Have or use a device like a CPAP machine, or artificial joint.

Staph Infection Diagnosis and Treatment

If you suspect you may have an infection or notice any of the symptoms of infection, see your doctor immediately.  Your doctor will perform a skin or blood test to form a diagnosis.  If a staph infection is present, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics orally or in some cases, intravenously, depending on the severity of the infection and the potential drug resistance of the staph strain. 

Your doctor may also want to lance a skin infection like a boil or irrigate an infected wound thoroughly to help get rid of the bacteria.  If an infection is serious enough, a hospital stay may be necessary.

Though staph infections are no laughing matter when they go “rogue,” do your best to stay on top of your health in general, and see your doctor quickly if you develop any of the risk factors listed above. Bacteria can be challenging to get rid of once they get a stronghold inside us, so a speedy diagnosis and swift treatment are key to heading staph bacteria off at the pass.