What Is a Staph Infection? - Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

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  • 0:40 Staph Infection
  • 1:29 Diseases Caused by S. Aureus
  • 3:22 Methicillin-Resistant…
  • 5:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will discuss something known as a staph infection. We will delve into Staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, septic arthritis, toxic shock syndrome, and antibiotic resistance.

The Pimple and Death-Inducing Bacterium

Hospitals are supposed to be a place of refuge, somewhere you go to cure yourself of some kind of ailment. However, many times the place you might want to avoid the most is actually the hospital you need to go to. That's because the hospital is where all the sick people are! What's more is that there are a lot of really sick, or terrible, bacteria in hospitals that are proving extremely difficult to treat. We're going to talk about the most famous one of these in this lesson, one that has given you pimples and also killed thousands of people.

A Staph Infection

I'm more than sure you have heard of the term 'staph infection.' It's used almost left and right. However, few people know that that a staph infection can cause problems ranging from something as innocent as a pimple to something more serious, like death.

The principal disease-causing bacteria of staph infections is known as Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), which is a Gram-positive coccal bacterium. This means it's a bacterium with a round shape, known as a coccus, and has a very thick cell wall, which is why we call it Gram-positive.

Also, the reason it is called 'aureus' is because it produces a pigment that gives colonies of this bacteria a golden hue. This golden hue is reminiscent of an ancient Roman gold coin called an aureus.

Diseases Caused by S. aureus

S. aureus is sometimes found on the skin of even healthy human beings. It doesn't have to be a disease-causing agent. However, if your skin is compromised due to something like a scratch or surgical incision, this bacterium can get into the crack in the skin and cause the typical signs associated with a skin infection, such as pimples, boils, blisters, a rash, itching, and so on.

A highly contagious form of bacterial skin infection caused by S. aureus is known as impetigo and is often found in infants and children. Impetigo is the least of your worries, however. If this bacterium gets into the deeper levels of your body, it can cause far more serious problems.

For example, if you go to the hospital to have shoulder surgery performed and proper protocol isn't followed in the hospital during surgery or at home while recovering, then this bacterium can get into your deeper tissues and cause a condition known as septic arthritis, which is inflammation of a joint that is caused by an infection. If left untreated, the joint may be irreversibly damaged and may result in life-long pain and mobility issues.

An even more life-threatening condition caused by S. aureus is known as toxic shock syndrome and is a condition where toxins produced by S. aureus cause low blood pressure, seizures, and organ failure. This condition is commonly associated with tampons that are infrequently changed but may also be caused by bacterial entry through any wound in the body.

This is by no means a complete list of the things S. aureus can cause. Nonetheless, any condition caused by a staph infection is generally treated at minimum by antibiotics, which is a general type of medication that can kill bacteria, such as S. aureus.

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus

Unfortunately, in some cases, S. aureus cannot be treated with important antibiotics. I know I just said that staph infections are treated with at least some kind of antibiotic, but the problem is that we have managed to seriously mess up our ability to fight off this dangerous bacterium.

Improper use of antibiotics over many years has led S. aureus to develop into a much more sinister strain. This specific strain of S. aureus is known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA for short. This is a strain of S. aureus that is resistant to many beta-lactam antibiotics, such as penicillins and cephalosporins.

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