A professor at the Department of Microbiology, University of Ibadan, Oluwaseun Garuba, discusses staphylococcus and its prevention with DOLAPO AKITOYE
strong>What is staph infection?
Basically, staph is staphylococcus. Staphylococcus is a genus and in this genus, there are many species of staphylococcus.
There is staphylococcus aureus, staphylococcus pyogenes and staphylococcus epidermidis. Infection resulting from staphylococcus is what is termed staph infection. These microorganisms are resident on the surface of the skin and most of the time, they do not cause infection. This means that the various species of staphylococcus are found on the skin but most of the time, they do not cause infection. However, if there is a slight problem and the bacteria gets into the body, it could get into the blood stream, joints, bone, lungs or even the heart. This is why infection resulting from staphylococcus is very important. In some cases, infections resulting from staphylococcus can be life-threatening.
What causes it?
It is caused by c and there are various species of staphylococcus. However, if there is an injury to the skin, a healthy person will normally not develop the infection. The organisms are on surfaces of the skin and there is no injury to the skin that will allow the organisms to invade the skin. If there is somebody with a staphylococcus infection, then there is a very likely tendency that it is as a result of the organisms on the skin. The bacteria can survive drying, extreme temperature, stomach acid and high level of salt.
What are the signs and symptoms of staphylococcus?
The site of infection determines the signs and symptoms. If the site of infection is the surface of the skin, the most common sign is the boil. The boil is filled with pus that develops in the hair follicle or the oil gland of the skin. The skin over the infected area usually becomes red and swollen. If a boil breaks open, it will probably drain with pus. The pus will be seen on the surface of the skin if it breaks open. This is why in most cases, when one has a boil, antibiotics is prescribed because usually it is a bacterial infection.
There is also cellulitis. Cellulitis is an infection of the deeper layer of the skin and causes skin redness, swelling on the surface of the skin and in some cases, one could have ulcers. There is also staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome. In some cases, the microorganisms produce toxins. The microorganisms invade the skin and also produce toxins and they usually affect small children. As mentioned earlier, the organisms are on the surface of the skin and practically everybody has it. In places where there are small children such as day care, pre-nursery, the children are at risk of getting it especially if hygiene is not properly paid attention to.
There is also staphylococcal food poisoning. In this case, when the food handlers – who are carriers of staphylococcus (as is practically everybody) – finish preparing the food and the food is cold and part of their staphylococcus falls in the food and the food is eaten, one is at risk.
Staph is one of the most common causes of food poisoning and usually within hours of eating contaminated food, the person gets infected. Usually, it does not cause fever. The signs that can be expected in this case include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration and in some instances, low blood pressure. In another case, one can have the microorganisms enter the blood stream and this is known as blood poisoning. It is also known as septicemia, which occurs when staph bacteria enters a person’s blood stream. A fever and low blood pressure are signs of septicaemia. When staph gets into the blood, it can travel to locations within the body such as the internal organs – brain, heart, lungs, bone, muscles.
How is it diagnosed?
It is usually diagnosed through laboratory investigations such as blood culture. However, there is now a global problem which is antibiotics resistance. Diagnosis is usually through laboratory investigations and imaging.
What is the incubation period of staph?
It is a functionality of who is infected and the site of infection. If one takes staph with food, within a few hours, one starts feeling nauseous, may start vomiting and also have diarrhoea. However, if the person is having staph on the surface of the skin where a boil results, it will take days before one sees the boil and begins investigation of it. It is not every boil that is staph-related. Someone can have a boil and it would not be as a result of staphylococcus. However, someone can have a staph-related boil and may not do any investigation of it initially because they may assume that it is just a boil.
Is staphylococcus contagious?
It is very contagious as it is a communicable disease, transferable from one person to another. It can also stay on plates and cups for a very long period of time and it can be passed through that.
How is it treated?
It can be treated through the use of antibiotics.
Can it be prevented?
Yes, it can. There are ‘common-sense’ precautions that can help lower the risk of developing staph infection; for example, washing of hands. Careful washing of hands is the best defence mechanism against any germ. If the hands are washed, they should be dried with clean materials. As staph is a common microorganism found on the surfaces of wounds, it is very important to keep wounds covered. They should be covered with sterile bandages until they heal. It is also advisable not to share personal items such as towels, bedsheets, pillow cases, clothing, athletic equipment etc. It is also advisable that clothing and beddings should be washed in hot water and with disinfectants. All of these would help reduce the spread of staph. Food safety precautions should also be taken. This includes washing of hands before handling food and cold food should be made hot above 60 degrees centigrade.
Are there any myths about staph infection?
Yes. The common myth is that staph infection is sexually transmitted. There are some traditional people that would be advertising that they have a super concoction that would even cure staph aureus. Staph infection is not a sexually-transmitted disease. However, due to the fact that it is on the surface of the skin, it can be passed across but it is not a sexually transmitted disease.