Diagnosis

To diagnose a staph infection, your health care provider typically will:

  • Perform a physical exam. During the exam, your provider examines any skin sores or reddened areas you may have. Your provider can also review any other symptoms.
  • Collect a sample for testing. Most often, providers diagnose staph infections by checking blood, urine, skin, infected material or nasal secretions for signs of the bacteria. Additional tests can help your provider choose the antibiotic that will work best against the bacteria.
  • Recommend other tests. If you're diagnosed with a staph infection, your provider may order an imaging test called an echocardiogram. This test can check if the infection has affected your heart. Your provider may order other imaging tests, depending on your symptoms and the exam results.

Treatment

Treatment of a staph infection may include:

  • Antibiotics. Your health care provider may perform tests to identify the staph bacteria behind your infection. This can help your provider choose the antibiotic that will work best for you. Antibiotics commonly prescribed to treat staph infections include cefazolin, nafcillin, oxacillin, vancomycin, daptomycin and linezolid.

    For serious staph infections, vancomycin may be required. This is because so many strains of staph bacteria have become resistant to other traditional antibiotics. This means other antibiotics can no longer kill the staph bacteria. Vancomycin and some other antibiotics used for antibiotic-resistant staph infections have to be given through a vein (intravenously).

    If you're given an oral antibiotic, be sure to take it as directed. Finish all the medication your provider gives you. Ask your provider what signs and symptoms you should watch for that might mean your infection is getting worse.

  • Wound drainage. If you have a skin infection, your provider may make a cut (incision) into the sore to drain fluid that has collected there. The area is also thoroughly cleaned.
  • Device removal. If your infection involves a medical device, such as a urinary catheter, cardiac pacemaker or artificial joint, prompt removal of the device may be needed. For some devices, removal might require surgery.

Antibiotic resistance

Staph bacteria are very adaptable. Many varieties have become resistant to one or more antibiotics. For example, today, most staph infections can't be cured with penicillin.

Antibiotic-resistant strains of staph bacteria are often described as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains. The increase in antibiotic-resistant strains has led to the use of IV antibiotics, such as vancomycin or daptomycin, with the potential for more side effects.

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Preparing for your appointment

While you may first see your family health care provider, you may be referred to a specialist, depending on which of your organ systems is affected by the infection. For example, you may be referred to a specialist in treating skin conditions (dermatologist), heart disorders (cardiologist) or infectious diseases.

What you can do

Before your appointment, you may want to make a list that includes:

  • Detailed descriptions of your symptoms
  • Information about medical problems you've had
  • Information about the medical problems of your parents or siblings
  • All medications, herbs, vitamins and other supplements you take
  • Questions you want to ask your health care provider

For a staph infection, some basic questions to ask include:

  • What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
  • What kind of tests do I need?
  • What's the best treatment for a staph infection?
  • Am I contagious?
  • How can I tell if my infection is getting better or worse?
  • Are there any activity restrictions that I need to follow?
  • I have other health conditions. How can I best manage these conditions together?
  • Do you have any brochures or other printed material that I can take? What websites do you recommend?

What to expect from your doctor

Your health care provider will likely ask you a number of questions, such as:

  • When did you first notice your symptoms? Could you describe them to me?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • Have you been around anyone with a staph infection?
  • Do you have any implanted medical devices, such as an artificial joint or a cardiac pacemaker?
  • Do you have any ongoing medical conditions, including a weakened immune system?
  • Have you recently been in the hospital?
  • Do you play contact sports?

What you can do in the meantime

If you suspect that you have a staph infection on your skin, keep the area clean and covered until you see your health care provider so that you don't spread the bacteria. And until you know whether or not you have a staph infection, don't share towels, clothing and bedding and don't prepare food for others.

May 25, 2022
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  3. Fowler VG, et al. Clinical approach to Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia in adults. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan. 28, 2020.
  4. Staphylococcal infections. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/gram-positive-cocci/staphylococcal-infections?query=staph%20infections. Accessed Feb. 16, 2022.
  5. Staphylococcal (staph) food poisoning. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/diseases/staphylococcal.html. Accessed Jan. 28, 2020.
  6. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/community/index.html. Accessed Jan. 28, 2020.
  7. Menstrual cycle. Office on Women's Health. https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/your-menstrual-cycle/. Accessed Jan. 28, 2020.
  8. 4 steps to food safety. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/4-steps-to-food-safety. Accessed Feb. 17, 2022.
  9. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA): Laundry. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/community/environment/laundry.html. Accessed Feb. 17, 2022.
  10. Tosh P (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Feb. 28, 2022.

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