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Staphylococcus, or staph, is a group of infectious bacteria that can cause a variety of conditions ranging from skin rashes to abscesses. It is actually extremely common bacteria, living on the surface of all human skin, but it will take advantage of vulnerability in the skin to enter the body, causing infection and discomfort. These infections are usually treated with applications of antibiotics, and in most cases are relatively easy to eradicate.
Common infections which are the result of staph include impetigo, an unsightly infection common around the nose and mouth that causes blisters, boils, and scabs. Infections of the hair follicle can result in sties, boils, and folliculitis, all characterized by painful red bumps in the skin. Staph also commonly infects the skin to create an abscess, a pus-filled wound which is hot and painful to the touch.
Staph is also the culprit responsible for Toxic Shock Syndrome, an infection of the blood stream which can be fatal. It can cause endocarditis, or infection of the valves of the heart, along with a variety of other potentially lethal internal infections. For this reason, hospitals have very strict protocols for keeping wound sites clean and avoiding exposure to staph, especially in patients with compromised immune systems.
Because staph is treated with antibiotics, several strains of drug resistant bacteria have emerged, posing a particular threat in hospital environments. Some strains are tested before antibiotics are prescribed, to ensure that the strain is not antibiotic resistant. As with any infection being treated with antibiotics, patients should follow the course of antibiotics all the way through, even if symptoms have vanished. Antibiotics should not be saved for use later, or given away to other individuals.
The best way to prevent a staph infection is to follow strict methods of cleanliness. Because the bacteria lives on the skin, any wound site should be cleaned and sterilized immediately before staph has an opportunity to take hold and cause an infection. Hands should be washed frequently, especially before and after eating food, inserting contact lenses, or other activities which may expose delicate parts of the body to infection.
If a staph infection is suspected, medical attention should be sought and the directions of the healthcare provider followed to promote rapid healing. If a person has a staph infection, he should be aware of the immune status of individuals around him, and minimize time around young children and those with compromised immune systems.
Actually, being *hyper* clean (ie, using antibacterial soaps, sprays and hand cleaners to excess) can make staph worse. If you kill off all competing bacteria, then you're allowing the resistant strains to multiply without check.