Biology of Staph Infection

Staphylococci, commonly known as staph, is a spherical bacteria that is mostly harmless in small quantities. It can live on the skin, the intestinal tract, and even colonize the nasal passages of many healthy individuals, with 20% of the population long term carriers of the bacteria. While there are more than thirty types of staph in all, it is the strain Staphylococcus aureus that is responsible for what in medical parlance is known as a staph infection.

How Staph Infections Work
Staph infections work through a number of different mechanisms. They have proteins that promote colonization of host tissues, as well as invasive agents that promote the spread of bacteria across other tissues. They also have proteins that inhibit white blood cell engulfment, as well as other immunological disguises. They can produce toxins that damage cell membranes, and possess inherent resistance to a number of antimicrobial agents.

Knowing the biology of staph is critical as it is one of a handful of bacteria that can develop into necrotizing fasciitis, otherwise known as flesh-eating bacteria. While it may be a bit uncomfortable to consider the possibility of contracting such a macabre disease, the reality is this potentially lethal bacteria is present on our skin each and every day.

Staph is Often Mild, Rarely Dangerous
For most individuals, the existence of staph is relatively innocuous. Infections that do occur are generally mild to serious, ranging from pneumonia, skin infections, food poisoning, toxic shock syndrome and blood poisoning. The most common are skin infections, which have the appearance of pimples or boils. Occasionally, these infections will progress into impetigo, which results in a crusting of the skin, or cellulitis, a swollen red area accompanied by a slight burning sensation. Both of these infections can generally be treated with antibiotics.

Resistant Strains
However, a simple dose of antibiotics may not be enough to treat the infection. If the strain of staph is resistant to drug treatment or the patient has a weakened immune system due to the onset of another disease, there is an increased likelihood that a simple, relatively routine staph infection can develop into something much more severe. In fact, there have been both amputations and deaths as a result of staph infections.

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, is a troublesome strain due to its high resistance to many types of antibiotics, including penicillin. MRSA can be insidious with hospital patients, where invasive devices, open wounds and compromised immune systems make them a greater risk for advanced infection.

Advanced Treatments on the Horizon
Thankfully, scientists and doctors are paying close attention to help patients avoid these sorts of problems. In addition to developing new and better antibiotics to combat resistance, they are also in the process of manufacturing vaccines that are designed to proactively prevent higher grade staph infections.

How to Prevent Staph
While these may be the most medically prudent ways to mitigate staph problems, there are also fairly elementary methods that individuals can take in order to stop infection from escalating. If you have a cut or scrape, treat it with antibiotic ointment and keep the wound area clean. Always wash your hands and remember to practice good hygiene. If you notice that a wound is not healing particularly well, seek medical help sooner rather than later. Often times rather harmless symptoms can be the precursor to a much larger issue, and taking the proper precautions will help ensure you never have to worry about a serious infection.

Staph is a bacteria, and it is mostly harmless in small quantities and healthy people. It lives alongside you in your body, and most people don’t think that much about it. However, the biology of staph is very important because it’s one of only a handful of bacteria that can lead to necrotizing fasciitis – otherwise known as flesh-eating bacteria. No one likes to think about the potential of contracting something like this, but the reality is that we live with the bacteria and its potential each and every day.

For most people, it’s never really a problem. They’ll probably never get sick from staph and if they do it’ll be a routine infection like a pimple or a boil that will go away on its own. Occasionally these kinds of things will progress a bit and need medical attention in the form of antibiotics to treat the problem. Sometimes, though, antibiotics don’t do the trick. If the strain of staph is a particularly resistant one or if the person has a weakened immune system because he or she is sick from something else, there is a higher possibility that a simple, relatively routine staph infection can develop into something much more severe.

There have been both amputations and deaths from staph, MRSA (a particular antibiotic-resistant staph strain), and flesh-eating bacteria. It’s a real concern. The good news, though, is that scientists are paying attention to ways that they can help people avoid these kinds of problems. They are working on better antibiotics and treatments, and they are also working on vaccines that are designed to stop these kinds of problems before they ever get started. That’s really the best way to control them, but it’s not always easy and there’s still more work to be done. In the meantime, keeping staph at bay involves common sense. If you have a cut or scrape, treat it with antibiotic ointment and keep it clean. Wash your hands. Practice good hygiene. If you notice that your wound is not healing well, seek medical help sooner, not later. It’s much safer that way, and can help keep you from getting sicker.