Last updated: January 11, 2023
What Is a Staph Infection?
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, tender and have pus or other drainage.
- 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) 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 amoxicillin, is one example. MRSA was once found mainly in hospital patients, but is not uncommon to find in community settings.
How Are Staph Infections Spread?
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. 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.
How Do I Treat a Staph Infection?
Staph infection treatment may include drainage of the infection site and/or treatment with antibiotics. Antibiotics are available for all forms of staph infections, including MRSA.
How Do I Prevent Staph Infections?
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol based hand sanitizer.
- Shower after athletic activities.
- Do not share personal items such as clothes, towels, uniforms, equipment and razors.
- Towels and uniforms should be washed after every use.
- During athletic activities, consider covering arms and legs with clothing.
- New wounds (e.g., scrapes, scratches, breaks in skin) should be cleaned immediately using soap and water. Then apply bandages to keep the area clean, dry and covered. Do not apply antibacterial cream unless directed by a medical provider.
- Students and staff should report skin infections to the school nurse, coach, athletic trainer or physical education teacher. See a medical provider if the skin begins to appear infected, red, hot, swollen, tender or draining fluid.
- Soap and water or alcohol based hand sanitizers should be readily available. Use a disinfectant that is EPA registered as effective against MRSA to wash hands.
- Exclude students and staff from school and athletics if a wound is draining and cannot be kept clean, dry and covered. A first aid kit with ample dressings should be available.
- Maintain a regular daily cleaning schedule of areas touched frequently by large numbers of people and locker room surfaces such as showers, benches, countertops and gym equipment.