A-Z of health
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Treating staphylococcal infections
Staphylococcal skin infections
In most cases, smaller boils can be successfully treated at home. One of the best ways to speed up the healing process is to apply a warm facecloth to the boil for 10 minutes, three or four times a day.
The heat increases the amount of blood that circulates around the boil, resulting in more infection-fighting white blood cells being sent there.
Wash your hands thoroughly after touching the boil using soap and hot water because this will help prevent bacteria being spread to other parts of your body or to other people. You can use painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to relieve any pain caused by the boil.
Your GP will probably need to treat larger boils that feel soft and spongy to the touch. Once a boil becomes soft and spongy, it is unlikely to burst by itself and may not respond to treatment with antibiotics. Your GP may be able to remove the pus using a technique called incision and drainage. In some cases, your GP may refer you to your local hospital to have this procedure.
Incision and drainage involves piercing the tip of the boil with a sterile needle or scalpel. This encourages the pus to drain out of the boil which should help relieve pain and stimulate the recovery process. Before having the procedure, you are likely to be given local anaesthetic to numb the affected area.
You should never attempt to squeeze or pierce the head of a boil yourself because this can spread the infection.
Read more about treating of boils.
Antibiotic cream can usually be used to treat impetigo. Before applying the cream, wash any affected areas of skin with warm, soapy water. It is very important to wash your hands immediately afterwards to avoid spreading the infection. As an added precaution, you could also use latex gloves when applying the cream.
Impetigo should respond to treatment within seven days. However, if the condition does not respond, or if the impetigo is widespread and severe, antibiotic tablets will be prescribed.
A seven day course of oral antibiotics is usually recommended. If you or your child are prescribed antibiotics, it is important to finish the course of medication even if the symptoms clear up.
Read more about treating impetigo.
Most cases of cellulitis are treated using antibiotics. Cellulitis usually responds quickly to antibiotics and you should soon find your symptoms starting to ease.
You may notice that your skin initially becomes redder when you first start taking the antibiotics, but this is usually only a temporary reaction. The redness should start to fade within 48 hours.
If your symptoms get worse 48 hours after taking the antibiotics, or you start to develop additional symptoms, such as a high temperature or vomiting, you should contact your GP immediately.
Read more about treating cellulitis.
Antibiotics can also be used to treat a wound infection. Depending on the severity and the extent of your infection, antibiotic tablets or antibiotic injections may be recommended. In the most severe cases, surgery may be needed to remove dead or damaged tissue from the wound.
Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome
Unlike the other types of skin infection, staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS) is usually regarded as a medical emergency because the infection can spread beyond the skin and into the body. It requires prompt treatment with antibiotic injections.
Invasive staphylococcal infections
Most cases of invasive staphylococcal infections need to be treated in hospital. This is because your body’s functions may need to be supported while the infection is treated.
Invasive infections are treated with antibiotic injections. Most people will require a seven to 10 day course of intravenous antibiotics.
If the strain of bacteria responsible for the infection is not resistant to antibiotics, an antibiotic called nafcillin is usually prescribed. Side effects of nafcillin are usually mild and include:
- abdominal pain
If the infection is caused by meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic called vancomycin is prescribed. Side effects of vancomycin are uncommon but if they occur they can be serious. They include:
- allergic reactions, such as skin rashes, itching or hives and swelling of the face, lips or tongue
- difficulty breathing
- a change in the amount or colour of your urine
- a change in hearing, such as hearing loss
- redness, blistering, peeling or loosening of the skin, including inside the mouth
- unusual bleeding, such as bleeding from the gums or nose
- feeling unusually weak or tired
Staphylococcal food poisoning
In most cases of staphylococcal food poisoning, you should be able to treat the symptoms at home without the need for medical attention. If you have food poisoning, make sure you do not become dehydrated because this will make you feel worse and will slow your recovery time.
Dehydration is a risk because fluid is lost through vomiting and diarrhoea. You should drink at least two litres (3.5 pints) of water a day, plus 200ml (a third of a pint) of water every time you pass a loose stool.
Read more about treating food poisoning.