Thumbnail image of: Skin, Cross Section: Illustration

Staph Infection

What is a staph infection?

Staphylococcus, or staph, refers to a group of bacteria. Staph often causes skin infections, like impetigo, boils, and cellulitis. The bacteria can also infect bone, muscle, or joints. Rarely, staph may cause other serious infections, such as pneumonia and heart infections.

What is the cause?

Staph bacteria can live harmlessly in the nose and throat of many people. Normally, the skin provides a barrier to staph. However, if the skin barrier is broken by a small cut, scrape, or insect bite, or if the skin is irritated by conditions such as eczema, staph bacteria may invade and cause an infection.

What are the symptoms?

For common skin infections, like impetigo or skin abscesses (boils), symptoms may include:

  • A small area of swelling and redness, similar to a pimple
  • Pain
  • Pus coming from the infected area
  • Yellowish crusting of the area

Deeper skin infection (cellulitis) can result in:

  • A larger area of swelling, pain, warmth, and redness
  • Fever

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your child may have a test of pus from an infected area to see what type of bacteria is causing the infection. Tests can help find the best antibiotic to fight the infection.

How is it treated?

For many skin infections, draining the pus from the area is all that is needed. Mild infections on the surface of the skin may be treated with a medicine put on the skin. For infections such as impetigo and cellulitis, your child may need to take an antibiotic by mouth for 1 to 2 weeks. More serious infections may need to be treated in the hospital with IV antibiotics.

Treating staph infections has become more difficult in recent years. Some bacteria are resistant to many commonly used antibiotics. Resistance means that the bacteria cannot be killed by these antibiotics. These resistant bacteria are called methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider if people living with your child have been diagnosed with MRSA.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Give medicine exactly as prescribed. If your child stops taking the medicine too soon, the infection may come back. If your child has side effects from the medicine, talk to your child’s provider.

Ask your child’s provider:

  • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
  • How long it will take your child to recover from this illness
  • What activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent staph infections?

To help prevent skin infections, teach your child to practice good hygiene:

  • Keep hands clean by washing them well with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Clean cuts, scrapes, and other skin injuries well with soap and water.
  • Keep wounds and sores clean and dry. You may need to cover some wounds with a bandage to keep them clean and dry. Change the bandage daily and more often if it gets dirty or wet.
  • Avoid contact with other people’s wounds or bandages.
  • Don’t share personal items, such as towels or razors.
  • See your healthcare provider for treatment as soon as possible if a wound or sore shows signs of infection. Signs of infection include new or worse redness, swelling, pain, warmth, or drainage from the wound.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-02-07
Last reviewed: 2014-01-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

Patient Portal

myTuftsMed is our new online patient portal that provides you with access to your medical information in one place. MyTuftsMed can be accessed online or from your mobile device providing a convenient way to manage your health care needs from wherever you are.

With myTuftsMed, you can:

  1. View your health information including your medications, test results, scheduled appointments, medical bills even if you have multiple doctors in different locations.
  2. Make appointments at your convenience, complete pre-visit forms and medical questionnaires and find care or an emergency room.
  3. Connect with a doctor no matter where you are.
  4. Keep track of your children’s and family members’ medical care, view upcoming appointments, book visits and review test results.
  5. Check in on family members who need extra help, all from your private account.


Your privacy is important to us. Learn more about ourwebsite privacy policy. X