Staph infection (known correctly as staphylococcus aureus) is any one of a number of possible infections caused by a particular type of bacteria that infects the skin. The most common and well known form of staph infection (and also the most difficult to treat) is MRSA which stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus and is more commonly known as the ‘hospital bug’.
The bacteria which causes staph infection is said to look like a bunch of grapes or cluster of berries which is where it gets its name (which means ‘grapes’ and ‘berries’ in Greek). They are not rare however and in fact exist on the skin and inside the nose of around 25% of all healthy adults. Here though they are unable to infect the patients as they cannot break through the skin and other defences. It is often then when the patient breaks the skin with a wound or sore, or when their immune system lowers, that they contract the form of staph infection that leads to illness. This is why they spread so rapidly around hospitals, old people’s homes and other community environments involving illness or old age. The elderly and babies are an at risk group, as are those with open wounds or low immune systems which describes roughly the main demographic of those in hospital. The close proximity and the fact that 25% of all those administered have the infection mixed with these statistics makes it spread rapidly.
A staph infection develops when the bacteria infects a types of tissue or organ and the nature of the symptoms will be determined by the location of the infection. The most common infections however will be in the skin, which will develop into a rash, broken flaking skin, or discolouration, often around a wound. It can then develop into impetigo (a crusting of the skin) or cellulitis which is a condition similar to gangrene that causing bruising, swelling and discolouration along with the symptoms of a fever. All of these can be treated with a antibiotic, either as a cream or administered orally.
In other cases the bateria will travel into the blood stream and/or internal organs (a process known as sepsis). This can damage the liver, kidneys and heart and is potentially fatal making it highly important to treat earlier symptoms of staph infection when possible. Antibiotics remain the best treatment for this form of staph infection.
When the bacteria is the MRSA strand however it becomes even more difficult to treat. As the term Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus suggests, the virus is resistant to methicillin among other ingredients vital to most antibiotics. MRSA is a ‘super bug’ meaning that it is able to adapt and become immune to the various forms of antibiotics that are used to treat it. Fortunately there are still some forms of antibiotics that for the time being remain effective in treating MRSA which are vancomycin, teicoplanin and linezolid, and as long as it is treated quickly MRSA is normally relatively harmless. In most cases the patient will be moved to a separate room while undergoing treatment to prevent the spread of the infection as far as possible.