Staphylococcus aureus infection is extremely common worldwide. People know about it to differing extents. Some members of the public have become experts about it because of personal or loved one’s experience. Some may never have heard of it (before), hence this article.
Staphylococcus aureus can affect any part of the body, causing a spectrum of diseases from mild to very serious and life-threatening. We will in this article highlight some of the most common conditions caused by Staphylococcus aureus.
The article will be divided into the following paragraphs:
- what is Staphylococcus aureus?
- Staphylococcus aureus source
- Staphylococcus aureus skin infection
- Staphylococcus aureus deep infections
- Staphylococcus aureus food poisoning
- Staphylococcus aureus septicaemia
- Staphylococcus aureus treatment
- Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- Staphylococcus aureus prevention
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WHAT IS STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS?
Staphylococcus aureus, shortened to “Staph aureus” or “S. aureus“, is the Scientific name of a bacterium. Staphylococcus is the “surname” while aureus is the “first name”. The surnames of organisms in Scientific names are sometimes shortened to one letter only.
The suffix –coccus means that the bacterium is spherical when viewed under the microscope. And Staphylococcus describes a bacterium that forms grape-like clusters under the microscope. Aureus means “gold”.
So Staph aureus is a bacterium, that is, a micro-organism that causes suppuration or pus formation. Viewed under the microscope, it is round. And classified by the “Gram Stain”, it is Gram positive.
STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS SOURCE
The bacteria, as stated above, very frequently causes infections in people. This is largely because of lack of awareness, or lack of recall of the source of Staphylococcus aureus.
Staphylococcus aureus lives in the nose, in anterior nares. This is the front part of our nostrils. The majority of us have this bacterium as a permanent resident there.
In the nostrils (anterior nares), Staphylococcus aureus may or may not cause trouble. It frequently does not cause local infection in the nose. But certain abnormal conditions in the nose can provoke the bacterium to proliferate, cause pus formation and illness.
The bacterium may also be transferred, usually via fingers, to other body parts. On reaching those distant parts, any of the mentioned (and other) disease conditions can ensue. The bacterium can also reach distant body parts via the bloodstream.
STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS SKIN INFECTION
This is the commonest manifestation of Staph aureus. Skin infections are of various types and differ in severity.
There may be small pustules. Or there may be much bigger pus collections. Some Staphylococcus skin infections include:
- furuncles / boils
- Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome (SSSS)
Cellulitis is a particularly serious infection of the skin ± underlying soft tissues. It causes reddening, swelling and tenderness of the affected area, usually the lower leg. The infection can spread in a matter of hours, and become life-threatening.
In the Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome, the skin looks like it has been scalded with hot water. This is another severe form of infection.
Medical practitioners are the ones who will assess the severity of these skin and soft tissue infections. They will then order treatment, which may include hospitalisation. Hospitalisation becomes particularly important if treatment has to be via intravenous antibiotics.
STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS DEEP INFECTIONS
Staphylococcus, as mentioned above, can travel through the bloodstream. In this manner, it can seed itself in almost any organ of the body. Deep-seated infections are possible as a result of this.
Perhaps the commonest deep-seated infection is the ABSCESS. This is a much bigger collection of pus than the boil (furuncle). Abscesses are ubiquitous, basically erupting anywhere, anytime! There is an African saying that goes, “you lack shame like an abscess”!
Indeed, Staphylococcus aureus induced pus collections can form in bones and joints. This is abscess formation in bony tissue. The manifestations include osteomyelitis and septic arthritis.
Bone and joint infections almost always require hospital admission. Investigations which include drawing samples of blood and of the pus, have to be done. These investigations identify the causative bug (99% S. aureus), and help direct treatment.
Another deep-seated, infection that needs mention, is Staphylococcal pneumonia. This is a rare but severe form of pneumonia. It usually follows influenza epidemics, so heightened awareness is necessary after such epidemics.
STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS FOOD POISONING
Among food poisoning types, this is one of the commonest. It is understandable how easy it is to get Staph aureus from the nostrils into the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. Breach of hygiene practices is often the cause.
Symptoms of Staphylococcus aureus food poisoning develop pretty fast. One to six hours after ingestion of the bugs, symptoms usually start manifesting. But they may take as little as half-an-hour, or as much as eight hours.
Symptoms of Staphylococcus aureus food poisoning:
- abdominal cramps
- systemic upset
STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS SEPTICAEMIA
This is a serious and dangerous condition. And unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon – sources of Staphylococcus aureus are numerous!
The danger also lies in the fact that Staph septicaemia may not be overt. It can be insidious, presenting with non-specific symptoms. This is more so in children, who may just be offish when they have bloodborne spread of infection.
It is indeed septicaemia that causes Staphylococcus infection to seed in various distant and internal organs. The organs include those of the musculoskeletal system as discussed above.
Then there is also infection of the inside of the heart. This can affect the heart valves (infective endocarditis). It is a rapidly evolving type of infective endocarditis that requires intravenous antibiotics at least initially.
STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS TREATMENT
Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium. Therefore it is treated with antibiotics. There are a number of antibiotics that can be used, depending on whether the bacteria causing infection at that point in time, is sensitive to the antibiotics.
Traditionally, Staph aureus is treated with an antibiotic called CLOXACILLIN. Cloxacillin, as the suffix -cillin implies, is a penicillin antibiotic. It is highly efficacious against the Gram positive bacterium that is Staph aureus.
METHICILLIN RESISTANT STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS (MRSA)
Unfortunately, there at times arises, cases of Staphylococcus aureus resistance to Cloxacillin. This resistance is detected in the laboratory using an antimicrobial called Methicillin, which is related to Cloxacillin. Methicillin itself does not have clinical use.
Methicillin resistance implies cloxacillin resistance. That is, a bacterial isolate that is found to be resistant to methicillin in the laboratory, WILL be resistant to cloxacillin in the clinical setting.
A bacterial isolate that is found to be resistant to Methicillin, is called Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The name is sometimes shortened to “Meth Resistant Staph aureus“. Meth Resistant Staph aureus is a menace of the world.
STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS PREVENTION
Staphylococcus aureus infection can be prevented by GOOD HYGIENE PRACTICES. Nose picking transfers the bacterium to places where it causes clinical disease. So, sticking bare fingers into the nostrils should be avoided at all costs.
If the nostrils have to be wiped or cleaned in whatever manner, tissue paper, handkerchief, or similar materials should be used. Tissue paper is the best as it can subsequently be discarded.
Hands should be washed thoroughly, whenever contact with the nostrils have been touched. After washing, the hands should be thoroughly dried.
If water is not available, or if time is limited, good quality sanitisers can be used. Kindly keep these hygiene products in your home and use them to protect your household from bugs like Staph aureus.
In the case of recurrent staphylococcal infections, it may be necessary to eliminate nasal carriage. Carrier status can be eliminated with the use of e.g. IODINE OINTMENT. (This treatment cannot be used in the case of iodine allergy.)
The 10% ointment has to be diluted 50 : 50 with clean water. You place a small amount in your palm. Then you place an equal quantity of water next to it, and mix well. The diluted iodine ointment can then be applied to the inside of the nostrils to kill off germs.
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Staphylococcus aureus infection is a very important public health problem. It is extremely common in all settings, among all age groups, and any time of the year.
A lot of morbidity and mortality results from Staph aureus annually. The cost is great. But the disease can be treated very effectively.
Of worry is the big problem of antibiotic resistance and superbugs. The problem is unfortunately still increasing globally. And the malpractices that are fuelling it continue unabated.
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