A staph infection is caused by the staphylococcus virus – the same virus that causes MRSA and that exists on the skin of around 30% of healthy adults without causing any symptoms. When an area of skin becomes broken or inflamed, it can then get inside the wound and cause a range of symptoms and conditions often resulting in the death of nearby tissue through skin infections such as cellulitis.
For women who breast feed there is some chance that the skin around the nipples may become broken, as a result of the child’s positioning or tongue movement, or as a result of dry skin or eczema. When this occurs there is obviously a relatively high chance of staph infection, so until they heal it is advisable to use nipple guards to protect the area and to be careful to wash the breasts thoroughly after feeding.
As such, for breastfeeding Mothers this is a cause for concern and discomfort, and it is important to understand the nature of the condition, the causes and how to treat/avoid it.
First of all it’s important to recognise that this is not a serious condition. While it’s unpleasant, it is not necessary to wean your baby as the virus cannot be passed through the milk. What’s more important is that you avoid contaminating bedding or other items and that you are careful to disinfect the area. The condition will be treated with antibiotics and this will also normally be perfectly safe for the baby (your doctor will inform you if this is not the case).
Not every case of breast infection is caused by the staph virus and other fungal infections are common. The main symptoms of a staph infection will be cracked and sore nipples and possible a redness around the area. While staph infections should not be a cause for serious concern, it is nevertheless important to see a doctor as soon as you see the symptoms – to check that it is indeed a staph infection and to avoid the condition developing into a breast abscess which can require surgery. You should also check your child for any sign of staff infection.
Staph infection is treated in most cases by antibiotics and in rare cases by methicillin (in less than 10% of cases). MRSA is a more resistant strain of staphylococcus that is resistant to methicillin (hence it’s name ‘methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus’). In this case aureomycin may be prescribed.
As they say, prevention is better than cure. Staph infection can generally be prevented through good hygiene practices. This means regularly changing clothes and bras and washing thoroughly, and it means covering and treating open wounds promptly. Wash your hands thoroughly and particularly after coming into contact with the virus.