Staph infections can range from minor skin problems to endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of your heart valve lining. As a result, signs and symptoms of staph infections vary widely, depending on the location and severity of the infection.

Skin infections

Skin infections caused by staph bacteria include:

  • Boils. The most common type of staph infection is the boil, a pocket of pus that develops in a hair follicle or oil gland. The skin over the infected area usually becomes red and swollen. If a boil breaks open, it may drain pus, blood or an amber-colored liquid. Boils occur most often under the arms or around the groin or buttocks.
  • Impetigo. This contagious, often painful rash can occur in all ages, but it's most common in young children and infants. The types of impetigo caused by staph bacteria usually feature large blisters that may ooze fluid and develop a honey-colored crust. These sores occur most commonly around the nose and mouth.
  • Cellulitis. Cellulitis — an infection of the deeper layers of skin — causes skin redness and swelling on the surface of your skin. Sores (ulcers) or areas of oozing discharge may develop, too. Cellulitis occurs most often in the lower legs and feet of older persons.
  • Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome. Toxins produced as a result of a staph infection may lead to staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome. Affecting mostly newborns, this condition features fever, a rash and sometimes blisters. When the blisters break, the top layer of skin comes off — leaving a red, raw surface that looks like a burn.

Bacteremia

Also known as blood poisoning, bacteremia occurs when staph bacteria enter a person's bloodstream. A persistent fever is one sign of bacteremia. The bacteria can travel to locations deep within your body, to produce infections affecting:

  • Internal organs, such as your brain, heart or lungs
  • Bones and muscles
  • Surgically implanted devices, such as artificial joints or cardiac pacemakers

Toxic shock syndrome

This life-threatening condition results from toxins produced by some strains of staph bacteria and has been linked to the use of certain types of tampons, skin wounds and surgery. It usually develops suddenly, with:

  • High fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A rash on your palms and soles that resembles sunburn
  • Confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Seizures
  • Headache

Septic arthritis

Septic arthritis is often caused by a staph infection. The bacteria usually target the knees, but other joints can be affected, including your ankle, hip, wrist, elbow or shoulder. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Joint swelling
  • Severe pain in the affected joint
  • Fever
  • Shaking or chills

When to see a doctor

Go to the doctor if you or your child has:

  • An area of red, irritated or painful skin
  • Pus-filled blisters
  • Fever

You may also want to consult your doctor if:

  • Skin infections are being passed from one family member to another
  • Two or more family members have skin infections at the same time
Jun. 09, 2011