Skin infections are the most common type of disease produced by Staphylococcus. Staph infections of the skin can progress to impetigo (a crusting of the skin) or cellulitis (inflammation of the connective tissue under the skin, leading to swelling and redness of the area). In rare situations, a serious complication known as scalded skin syndrome (see below) can develop. In breastfeeding women, Staph can result in mastitis (inflammation of the breast) or in abscess of the breast. Staphylococcal breast abscesses can release bacteria into the mother's milk.
When the bacteria enter the bloodstream and spread to other organs, a number of serious infections can occur. Spread of the organisms to the bloodstream is known as bacteremia or sepsis. Staphylococcal pneumonia predominantly affects people with underlying lung disease and can lead to abscess formation within the lungs. Infection of the heart valves (endocarditis) can lead to heart failure. Spread of Staphylococci to the bones can result in severe inflammation of the bones known as osteomyelitis. When Staph bacteria are present in the blood, a condition known as staphylococcal sepsis (widespread infection of the bloodstream) or staphylococcal bacteremia exists. Staphylococcal sepsis is a leading cause of shock and circulatory collapse, leading to death, in people with severe burns over large areas of the body. When untreated, Staph aureus sepsis carries a mortality (death) rate of over 80%. Although not common, Staph aureus has been reported as a cause of chorioamnionitis and neonatal sepsis in pregnancy, but group B streptococci are the most common bacterial cause of this life-threatening condition for the fetus.
Staphylococcal infections are contagious and can be transmitted from person to person. Since pus from infected wounds may contain the bacteria, proper hygiene and handwashing is required when caring for Staph-infected wounds.
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 Staph aureus 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 using tampons.
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