Staphylococcus skin infections

Staphylococcus aureus (also called Staph aureus or Staph) is a type of germ (bacteria) that commonly lives on healthy skin. Some people carry Staph in moist areas on their body such as their nostrils, armpits and groin.

Symptoms of Staphylococcus skin infections

Staph is usually harmless and not noticeable. But if the skin is very dry, scratched or grazed, the germ can multiply and cause skin infections.

The infected skin is generally red, swollen and painful. Sometimes there can be pus and an unpleasant smell. Types of infections include:

  • boils
  • abscesses
  • impetigo (school sores)
  • cellulitis
  • folliculitis.

Self care with Staphylococcus skin infections

  • Keep the sore or infected area covered with a dressing or plaster until it has healed up.
  • Do not scratch the area and avoid touching it. Wash your hands well after touching the infected area.
  • Do not let anyone else touch the infected area.
  • Clean the infected area with water every day and cover it again with a clean dressing or plaster.

Getting help with Staphylococcus skin infections

See your healthcare provider if the infected area or sore:

  • is larger than the size of a 10 cent coin (approximately 1.5 cm)
  • is getting bigger
  • has pus
  • has red streaks coming from it
  • is not getting any better after 2 days
  • is near one of your eyes.

You may be prescribed antibiotics.

If you have repeated staph skin infections, you may need to try to remove the staph from your skin. This is called decolonisation.

Preventing Staphylococcus skin infections

  • If you or anyone in the house has an infected cut or sore, cover it with a plaster. This will help stop it infecting other parts of your body and stop it spreading to other people. Any type of plaster is fine.
  • Wash your hands properly with liquid soap and water or an alcohol-based hand gel, taking care to clean between your fingers and up to your wrists.
  • Have a bath or shower at least daily and more often if you do very sweaty activities. If you have dry skin and are not very active, a bath or shower every second day should be OK. Wash all over your body with soap, including between your toes, around your bottom, under your arms, into your groin area and into any skin folds.
  • Keep your fingernails clean and short.
  • Do not share razors, towels, facecloths, toothbrushes, containers of creams or ointments, make-up or other personal items with anyone else in the house.
  • If you use creams or ointments from a container, use a new clean stick or spoon every time to remove the amount you need. This stops you contaminating the whole container.

Keep your hands clean: Healthy habits

Protecting your home

  • Clean all hard surfaces, including bathrooms and floors with detergent and water.
  • Vacuum all carpets, rugs, mattresses and electric blankets.
  • Wash all sheets and towels weekly, preferably in hot water, and change underwear daily.
  • Wash pet bedding regularly, especially dog bedding. Dogs can carry Staph infections without showing any signs.

How often you do this depends on how many people are in your household and how dirty things get. For example, a family of 8 in a 3-bedroom house should vacuum and clean every second day. An older couple may only need to vacuum and clean once every 2 weeks.

Skin decolonisation

If you keep getting Staph infections, your healthcare provider may recommend that you try and get rid of the bacteria from your skin. This is known as decolonisation. Your household contacts will need to be treated at the same time.

Skin decolonisation — HealthInfo (external link)

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)

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