Staphylococcus is a group of bacteria’s that can cause a multitude of diseases as a result of infection of various tissues of the body. Staphylococcus bacteria can cause illness not only directly by infection but also indirectly by producing toxins responsible for food poisoning and toxic shock syndrome.
Mukamurangwa Clementine is an intern doctor working at the university teaching hospital; she says that the name Staphylococcus comes from the Greek word staphyle meaning a bunch of grapes and coccus meaning berry, and that is what Staph look like under the microscope, like a bunch of grapes or little round berries.
The doctor says that over 30 different types of Staphylococci can infect humans, but most infections are caused by staphylococcus aureus type. Staphylococci can be found normally in the nose and on the skin and less commonly in other locations of healthy adults.
She explains that in the majority of cases the bacteria do not cause disease. However, damage to the skin and other injury may allow the bacteria to overcome the natural protective mechanisms of the body leading to infection.
The doctor points out that anyone can develop a Staphylococcus infection, although certain groups of people are at greater risk including newborn infants, breastfeeding women, and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, vascular disease, and lung disease. Also injecting drug users, those with skin injuries and disorders, intravenous catheters, surgical incisions, and those with a weakened immune system all have an increased risk of developing Staphylococcus infections.
Staphylococcal disease of the skin usually results in a localized collection of pus known as an abscess, boil or furuncle. The affected area may be red, swollen, and painful.
Types of diseases caused by staphylococcus germ
Staph infections of the skin can progress to impetigo a condition that leads to crusting of the skin, cellulitis an inflammation of the connective tissue under the skin leading to swelling and redness of the area. In rare cases, a serious complication known as scalded skin syndrome can develop.
In breastfeeding women, Staphylococcus can result in mastitis an inflammation of the breast and abscess of the breast. Staphylococcal breast abscesses can release bacteria into the mother’s milk.
The doctor explains that when the bacteria enter the bloodstream and spread to other organs, a number of serious infections can occur. Staphylococcal pneumonia predominantly affects people with underlying lung disease and can lead to abscess formation within the lungs. Infection of the heart valves can cause endocarditis that also leads to heart failure.
Spread of Staphylococci to the bones can result in severe inflammation of the bones known as osteomyelitis. Staphylococcal sepsis, a widespread infection of the bloodstream is a leading cause of shock and circulatory collapse that leads to death in people with severe burns over large areas of the body.
Staphylococcal food poisoning is an illness of the bowels that causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. It is caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by staphylococcus aureus. Symptoms usually develop within one to six hours after eating contaminated food. The illness usually lasts for one to three days and resolves on its own. Patients with this illness are not contagious, since toxins are not transmitted from one person to another.
Toxic shock syndrome is an illness caused by toxins secreted by this germ, a bacteria growing under conditions in which there is little or no oxygen. Toxic shock syndrome is characterized by the sudden onset of high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle aches, followed by low blood pressure (hypotension), which can lead to shock and death. There may be a rash resembling sunburn with peeling of skin. Toxic shock syndrome was originally described and still occurs especially in menstruating women that use tampon material during these periods.
Diagnosis of staphylococcus infections
In cases of minor skin infections, Staphylococcal infections are usually diagnosed by their appearance without the need for laboratory testing. More serious staphylococcal infections such as infection of the bloodstream, pneumonia, and endocarditis require culturing of samples of blood or other infected fluids. The laboratory establishes the diagnosis and performs special tests to determine which antibiotics are effective against the bacteria.
Treatment of the germ and its diseases
The doctor says that minor skin infections are usually treated with an antibiotic ointment such as a nonprescription triple-antibiotic mixture. In some cases, oral antibiotics may be given for skin infections. Additionally, if abscesses are present they are surgically drained. More serious and life threatening infections are treated with intravenous antibiotics. The choice of antibiotic depends on the susceptibility of the particular staphylococcal strain as determined by culture results in the laboratory.
The doctor however points out that there are Some Staphylococcus strains such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) are resistant to many antibiotics.
MRSA is a type of staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to the antibiotic methicillin and other drugs in the same class including penicillin, amoxicillin, and oxacillin. MRSA first appeared in patients in hospitals and other health facilities especially amongst the elderly people , the very sick, and those with an open wound such as a bedsore or catheter in the body. MRSA has since been found to cause illness in the community outside of hospitals and other health facilities.
MRSA in the community is associated with recent antibiotic use, sharing contaminated items, having active skin diseases, and living in crowded settings.
MRSA infections are usually mild superficial infections of the skin that can be treated successfully with proper skin care and antibiotics. MRSA, however can be difficult to treat and can progress to life threatening blood or bone infections because there are fewer effective antibiotics available for its treatment.
The transmission of MRSA is largely from people with active MRSA skin infections. MRSA is almost always spread by direct physical contact and not through the air. Spread may also occur through indirect contact by touching objects such as towels, sheets, wound dressings, clothes, workout areas, sports equipment contaminated by the infected skin of a person with MRSA.
Just as staphylococcus aureus can be carried on the skin and in the nose without causing any disease, MRSA can be also carried in this manner.