To diagnose a staph infection, your doctor will:
- Perform a physical exam. During the exam, your doctor will closely examine any skin lesions you may have.
- Collect a sample for testing. Most often, doctors diagnose staph infections by checking a tissue sample or nasal secretions for signs of the bacteria.
- Other tests. If you're diagnosed with a staph infection, your doctor may order an imaging test called an echocardiogram to check if the infection has affected your heart. Your doctor may order other imaging tests, depending on your symptoms and the exam results.
Treatment of a staph infection may include:
Antibiotics. Your doctor may perform tests to identify the staph bacteria behind your infection, and to help choose the antibiotic that will work best. Antibiotics commonly prescribed to treat staph infections include certain cephalosporins such as cefazolin; nafcillin or oxacillin; vancomycin; daptomycin (Cubicin); telavancin (Vibativ); or linezolid (Zyvox).
Vancomycin increasingly is required to treat serious staph infections because so many strains of staph bacteria have become resistant to other traditional medicines. But vancomycin and some other antibiotics have to be given intravenously.
If you're given an oral antibiotic, be sure to take it as directed, and to finish all of the medication prescribed by your doctor. Ask your doctor what signs and symptoms you should watch for that might indicate your infection is worsening.
- Wound drainage. If you have a skin infection, your doctor will likely make an incision into the sore to drain fluid that has collected there.
- Device removal. If your infection involves a device or prosthetic, prompt removal of the device is needed. For some devices, removal might require surgery.
Staph bacteria are very adaptable, and many varieties have become resistant to one or more antibiotics. For example, only about 5% of today's staph infections can be cured with penicillin.
The emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of staph bacteria — often described as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains — has led to the use of IV antibiotics, such as vancomycin or daptomycin, with the potential for more side effects.
Preparing for your appointment
While you may initially consult your family doctor, he or she may refer you to a specialist, depending on which of your organ systems is affected by the infection. For example, you may be referred to a doctor trained in treating skin conditions (dermatologist), heart disorders (cardiologist) or infectious diseases.
What you can do
You may want to write 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 the medications and dietary supplements you take
- Questions you want to ask the doctor
For a staph infection, some basic questions to ask your doctor 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 home with me? What websites do you recommend?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor 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 pacemaker?
- Do you have any ongoing medical conditions, including an impaired immune system?
- Have you recently been in the hospital?
- Do you play contact sports?
What you can do in the meantime
If you suspect you have a staph infection on your skin, keep the area clean and covered until you see your doctor so that you don't spread the bacteria. And, until you know whether or not you have staph, don't prepare food.