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Staph infections can range from minor skin problems to endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium). 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 will probably drain pus. Boils occur most often under the arms or around the groin or buttocks.

  • Impetigo. This contagious, often painful rash can be caused by staph bacteria. Impetigo usually features large blisters that may ooze fluid and develop a honey-colored crust.
  • 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.
  • Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome. Toxins produced as a result of a staph infection may lead to staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome. Affecting mostly newborns and children, 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.

Food poisoning

Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of food poisoning. Symptoms come on quickly, usually within hours of eating a contaminated food. Symptoms usually disappear quickly, too, often lasting just half a day.

A staph infection in food usually doesn't cause a fever. Signs and symptoms you can expect with this type of staph infection include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Low blood pressure

Bacteremia

Also known as blood poisoning, bacteremia occurs when staph bacteria enter a person's bloodstream. A fever and low blood pressure are signs 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:

  • A high fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A rash on your palms and soles that resembles sunburn
  • Confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

Septic arthritis

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

  • Joint swelling
  • Severe pain in the affected joint
  • Fever

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. 11, 2014

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