Treatments for Staph Infection: Antibiotics, Surgery, and More – Everyday Health

Treatment options for an infection caused by staphylococcus bacteria depend on the type of infection you have, how severe it is, and where it’s located on or in your body. Staph can cause a variety of types of skin infections, as well as infections of the blood, bones, joints, heart, and lungs.
Serious staph infections can be life-threatening, and even minor infections can turn serious if not treated appropriately, so any symptoms of a skin infection caused by staph — such as persistent skin redness, swelling, or sores — should be brought to the attention of a doctor.
That being said, some minor skin infections will heal on their own and won’t require any treatment other than keeping the skin clean and protected. (1) Most other staph infections — whether a skin infection or an internal infection — will require treatment with antibiotics. And sometimes, surgery is necessary to treat a staph infection. (2)
Antibiotics work by killing bacteria. Since the first antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered in the 1920s, hundreds have become available for use. (3) But even as more antibiotics have been developed, certain disease-causing bacteria have become resistant to commonly used antibiotics, meaning those antibiotics are no longer effective at treating infections caused by those bacteria. (4)
Staphylococcus aureus, the most common type of staph, is notorious for developing resistance to antibiotics.
But fortunately for those with staph infections, a number of antibiotics are still effective against it. Some are applied topically to the skin or the insides of the nose, some are taken orally, and some are given as an injection or intravenous (IV) infusion.
Your doctor will choose an antibiotic for you based on the location of your infection, how serious it is, and, sometimes, the type of staph you have. In some situations, you might be given a combination of several different antibiotics.
Some commonly used antibiotics for staph include (5):
Although side effects will depend on the specific medicine you take, antibiotics may cause:
If you’re given an oral antibiotic, be sure to follow the instructions on the product label carefully. Some antibiotics should be taken on an empty stomach, but others can be taken with food, which can help reduce any stomach irritation caused by the drug.
Finish all of your prescribed medication, even if your symptoms start to improve, to increase the likelihood of the infection being completely cured.
Surgery may be necessary to empty a wound, abscess, or boil. A doctor will make an incision in the sore to drain it. Sometimes infected fluid is also taken out of an associated infected joint.
Additionally, some people might need certain devices, such as artificial grafts, pacemakers, heart valves, or prosthetics, surgically removed if they develop a staph infection. (7)
Staph food poisoning is caused by toxins produced by the bacteria, not by the bacteria itself.
Symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps, typically develop within 30 minutes to eight hours of consuming a contaminated food, and are best treated by drinking fluids. If necessary, your doctor can prescribe anti-nausea medication, and severe illness may require intravenous fluids.
The toxins do not respond to antibiotics. (8)
Children with staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome generally need to be treated in the hospital with antibiotics, intravenous fluids, skin creams or ointments, and pain medicines.
Because SSSS causes large areas of skin to peel off, similar to a scalding burn, kids with this condition are often treated in the burn unit or intensive care unit of the hospital. (9)
MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that has become resistant to the antibiotic methicillin and other drugs in the penicillin class.
MRSA can be identified by taking a swab of the insides of a person’s nostrils or of a wound or skin lesion, and either culturing the specimen (to see if MRSA grows in the specimen) or using a faster, molecular test that detects staph DNA.
For minor skin infections caused by MRSA, a variety of oral antibiotics are still effective — as long as every dose of the prescribed antibiotic is taken.
People with serious MRSA infections are usually treated with the antibiotic vancomycin, although in recent years some strains of Staphylococcus aureus have become resistant or less sensitive to it, too.
Vancomycin is given intravenously and can cause serious side effects, though rare, such as:
Some serious MRSA infections are treated with a combination of two or more antibiotics.
As antibiotic resistance has become a growing concern, researchers have tested the effectiveness of other substances, including various types of honey, at helping to stop the growth of staph bacteria.
Manuka honey, in particular, has been found to have antimicrobial activity and to augment the effects of certain antibiotics in treating methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections. ( 11)
But the use of honey in treating staph infections is still in the experimental stages. Simply slathering a possible skin infection with honey is unlikely to be effective and not recommended.
Some home remedies that may be used to help symptoms of staph infections include:
If you do develop a staph infection on your skin, some basic hygiene measures will encourage healing and help to prevent the spread of infection:
Primary care doctors, such as internists, family medicine physicians, and pediatricians, can treat a mild case of staph. In some cases, your primary care doctor may refer you to a dermatologist for staph infections of the skin.
If your infection progresses or you develop complications, you might have to see an infectious disease specialist or a surgeon.
If you experience severe symptoms, such as a red or tender area of skin going numb, a reddened area becoming larger or hard to the touch, worsening pain, or high fever or chills, you should seek emergency medical attention at once.
Skin infections that occur in or around the eyes should also be treated as an emergency.
Most minor skin infections have a very good prognosis. But infections that are caused by drug-resistant bacteria, turn severe, or develop into conditions like sepsis (an extreme immune response to infection) or pneumonia (infection of the lungs) can be deadly.
According to one analysis, about 90,000 people in the United States get an invasive MRSA infection, and about 20,000 die. (13)
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sepsis potentially causes 11 million deaths worldwide every year. (14) While any infection can lead to sepsis, bacterial infections are the most common cause. (15)
Pneumonia kills about 50,000 people in the United States annually, although not all pneumonia is caused by staph bacteria. (16)
Being aware of the symptoms of a staph infection, seeking help promptly, and following an effective treatment approach are the best ways to fight staph.
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