Staph (pronounced staff) is short for Staphylococcus. Staph is a type of germ (bacteria) that can cause infections almost anywhere in the body.
Many healthy people normally have staph on their skin, in their noses, or other body areas. Most of the time, the germ does not cause an infection or symptoms. This is called being colonized with staph. These persons are known as carriers. They can spread staph to others. Some people colonized by staph develop an actual staph infection that makes them sick.
Staph germs can enter a break in the skin, such as cuts, scratches, or pimples. Usually the infection is minor and stays in the skin. But the infection can spread deeper and affect the blood, bones, or joints. Organs such as the lungs, heart, or brain can also be affected. Serious cases can be life-threatening.
One type of staph germ, called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), is harder to treat. This is because MRSA is not killed by medicines used to treat other staph germs.
Most staph germs are spread by skin-to-skin contact. They can also be spread when you touch something that has the staph germ on it, such as clothing or a towel.
You are more likely to get a staph infection if you:
Symptoms depend on where the infection is located. For example, with a skin infection you may have a boil or painful rash (impetigo). With a serious infection, such as toxic shock syndrome, you may have a high fever, nausea and vomiting, and a sunburn-like rash.
The only way to know for sure if you have a staph infection is by seeing a health care provider.
If test results show you have a staph infection, treatment may include:
Follow these steps to avoid a staph infection and prevent it from spreading.
Simple steps for athletes include:
Staphylococcus infections - self-care at home; Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus infections - self-care at home; MRSA infections - self-care at home
Chambers H. Staphylococcal infections. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 296.
Rupp ME, Fey PD. Staphylococcus epidermidis and other coagulase-negative Staphylococci. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill-Livingstone; 2009:chap 196.
Updated by: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.