Staphylococcus is a group of bacteria (microbe or germ) that can cause a number of infectious diseases in various tissues of the body. Staphylococcus is more familiarly known as staph (pronounced "staff"). 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.)

Over 30 different types of staphylococci can infect humans, but most infections are caused by Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococci can be found normally in the nose and on the skin (and less commonly in other locations) of around 25%-30% of healthy adults and in 25% of hospital or medical workers.

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.

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

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. When staph bacteria are present in the blood (infection of the bloodstream), the condition is known as staphylococcal bacteremia. Staphylococcal sepsis, characterized by low blood pressure, fever, and chills is caused by staphylococcal bacteremia. 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.

When the Staph bacteria spread to other organs, they may cause various conditions:

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. Septic arthritis occurs when staphylococci infect a joint space.

Thrombophlebitis occurs when the bacteria infect a vein. Thrombophlebitis from staphylococci most frequently occurs in hospitalized patients at the site of a venous catheter.

Staphylococcal infections are contagious and can be transmitted from person to person

Staphylococcus aureus also sometime pose a fertility threat to both men and women.

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