Staphylococcus (sometimes called “staph”) is a group of bacteria that can cause a multitude of diseases. Staph infections may cause disease due to direct infection or due to the production of toxins by the bacteria.

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Staph infections are caused by staphylococcus bacteria, types of germs commonly found on the skin or in the nose of even healthy individuals. Result in relatively minor skin infections. Staph-related illness can range from mild and requiring no treatment to severe and potentially fatal.

The name Staphylococcus comes from the Greek staphyle, meaning a bunch of grapes, and kokkos, meaning berry, and that is what staph bacteria look like under the microscope, like a bunch of grapes or little round berries. In technical terms, these are gram-positive, facultative anaerobic, usually unencapsulated cocci.

In the majority of cases, the bacteria do not cause disease. However, a cut, abrasion, or other damage to the skin or other injury may allow the bacteria to overcome the natural protective mechanisms of the body, leading to infection.

Over 30 different types of staphylococci can infect humans, but most infections are caused by Staphylococcus aureus.

Staph infections can turn deadly if the bacteria invade deeper into your body, entering your bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart. A growing number of otherwise healthy people are developing life-threatening staph infections.

Staphs can easily buildup resistant to medications. Some staph infections no longer respond to common antibiotics.

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How serious is staph infection?

Staph can cause serious infections if it gets into the blood and can lead to sepsis or death.

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to an infection. The body normally releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection. Sepsis occurs when the body’s response to these chemicals is out of balance, triggering changes that can damage multiple organ systems.

Diseases staph infection may cause are:

1) Skin problem: Staph infections of the skin can progress to impetigo (a crusting of the skin) or cellulitis (inflammation of the deeper layers of skin and connective tissue under the skin, leading to swelling and redness of the area). In rare situations, a serious complication known as scalded skin syndrome can develop.

2) Heart failure: Endocarditis is an infection of the lining of the heart muscle is often caused by staph infection. The heart valves and the heart muscle may also be affected. Symptoms include fever, sweating, weight loss, and fast heart rate.

3) Arthritis: Septic arthritis is also known as infectious arthritis, and is usually caused by bacteria. It can also be caused by a virus or fungus. The condition is an inflammation of a joint that’s caused by infection. Typically, septic arthritis affects one large joint in the body, such as the knee or hip. Less frequently, septic arthritis can affect multiple joints.

4) Low sperm counts: Staph aureus infection significantly interferes with semen quality and activity. It deteriorates the volume of semen and the concentration of sperm as well as the motility, morphology, and vitality of sperm. Therefore, a causative relationship may exist between staphylococcal infection and male infertility.

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5) Pneumonia: Staphylococcal pneumonia is caused by Staphylococcus aureus, gram-positive cocci that usually spread to the lung through the blood from other infected sites, most often the skin.

6) Toxic shock syndrome is an illness caused by toxins secreted by S. 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 is often a rash resembling sunburn, with peeling of skin. Toxic shock syndrome was originally described and still occurs especially in menstruating women using tampons.

7) Osteomyelitis: This uncommon but serious condition happens when a bone in your body becomes infected.

8) Pyomyositis Pyomyositis. Is a rare bacterial infection of the skeletal muscles, which are the muscles you use for movement.

9) Mastitis. 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.

Staphylococcal sepsis is a leading cause of shock, circulatory collapse, and death in people with severe burns over large areas of the body. When untreated, S. aureus sepsis carries a mortality (death) rate of over 80%. Although not common, S. 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.

Symptoms of staph may include:

Rash that looks like sunburn

Boil.  If the boil breaks open, it will probably drain pus. Boils occur most often under the arms or around the genitals or buttocks.


Internal heat

Muscle pain

Vomiting and diarrhea

Movement sensation in the body

Worm like noise in the stomach that persist even after deworming 

Fast heart rate

Weight loss

Mastitis.  Inflammation, pain and abscesses in the breast.

Low blood pressure


Some persons may not have symptoms due to some medication they have taken in the past while the infection is still active in the blood.

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Who is at risk for staph infections?

Anyone can develop a staph 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. Injecting drug users, those with skin injuries or disorders, intravenous catheters, surgical incisions, and those with a weakened immune system due either to disease or a result of immune suppressing medications all have an increased risk of developing staph infections.

Is a staph infection contagious?

Staph infections are contagious until the infection has resolved. Direct contact with an infected sore or wound, or with personal care items such as razors, bandages, etc., are common routes of transmission. Casual contact such as kissing or hugging does not pose a great risk for transmission if there is no direct contact with the infected area.

How long is a staph infection contagious?

A staph infection is contagious as long as the infected person has an active (ongoing) infection.

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What is the incubation period for a staph infection?

Many staph infections arise from bacteria that are already naturally present on the skin and/or mucous membranes of the individual. So there is no true incubation period for these cases. However, for staph infections contracted from another person, the incubation period usually ranges from about four to 10 days.

Is Staphylococcus aureus sexually transmitted disease?

Although S. aureus is not traditionally defined as a sexually-transmitted pathogen, these populations may be united through their increased prevalence of S. aureus carriage at multiple body sites, including the genitals, and may consequently be at elevated risk of infection.

Is it possible to prevent staph infections?

No vaccine is available to prevent a Staphylococcus aureus infection. Since the bacteria are so widespread and cause so many different diseases, prevention of staph infections requires attention to the risk factors that may increase the likelihood of getting a particular type of staph infection. For example, it is possible for menstruating women reduce the risk of toxic shock syndrome by frequently changing tampons (at least every four to eight hours), using low-absorbency tampons, and alternating sanitary pad and tampon use. Careful attention to food-handling and food-preparation practices can decrease the risk of staphylococcal food poisoning. Prevention of staph infections can be aided by proper hygiene when caring for skin wounds. Careful hand washing, avoiding close skin contact with possible infected individuals and proper hygienic care of skin scrapes, cuts, and wounds can all reduce the likelihood of skin infections due to staph, including community-acquired MRSA.

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What is the outcome of staph infections?

The prognosis or outcome of staph infections depends upon the type of infection that is present as well as other factors such as the extent to which the infection has spread and the underlying medical condition of the patient. These infections may spread and cause complications, including sepsis (spread of infection to the bloodstream).

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