Staph infections are caused by a group of bacteria called Staphylococcus. There are 40 different types of Staphylococci, with the most common one inhabiting humans being Staphylococcus aureus. In normal cases, these bacteria do not cause any illness or infections. However, when these bacteria enter your child’s body through a cut, wound, or scratch, they cause an infection.
Let’s understand more about the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of staph infection in kids.
What Are The Causes Of A Staph Infection?
Staph infections are caused by the Staphylococcus bacteria that are found in the nose and on the skin of 30-50% of people, including children. In a normal, healthy child, these bacteria do not cause any harm (1). The most common site of their colonization is the anterior nasal vestibule, which is the lower end of the nostrils (2). Other sites of colonization include the skin, hair, and nails.
Staph infections occur when there is an open wound or breach in the skin and the bacteria living on the skin enter the body and trigger symptoms. The bacteria could cause various types of infection, depending on the tissue involved (3).
Forms Of Staph Infection
Below are the common forms of staph infection found in children (4).
- Skin infections are the most common type of infections caused by the Staphylococcus bacteria. It is also the initial infection, which may lead to other forms of infection if left untreated.
- Food poisoning occurs when the bacteria reach the gastrointestinal tract through contaminated food or unwashed hands.
- Pneumonia occurs when bacteria infect the lungs.
- Endocarditis happens when the staph bacteria enter the bloodstream and infect the heart valves and inner lining of the heart’s chambers (endocardium).
- Bone infections, such as osteomyelitis, could occur in severe forms of staph infections.
- Bacteremia is the most severe form of staph infection, which arises when a local staph infection is not treated promptly. The bacteria spread to various parts of the body, releasing toxins, which cause toxic shock syndrome. The immune system mounts a severe and widespread immune response, leading to sepsis, which could be fatal.
Signs And Symptoms Of Staph Infection
If your child has a wound or injury, this acts as a doorway for the Staphylococci to cause staph infection. It could lead to the following signs and symptoms (5).
- A red, swollen bump or boil around the wound
- A swollen bump under the skin that is hard on touch
- Pain around the injury or the boil
- The skin around the wound becomes warm and tender
- Formation of a fluid-filled blister in the area
- Formation of an abscess that leaks pus or yellow-colored fluid and forms a honey-colored crust
If the staph skin infection is not treated, it could spread to other parts of the body and lead to several systemic effects. Below are some of the common signs of exacerbated staph infection in children.
- Sleepiness or drowsiness
- Loss of appetite
- Persistent cough
- Low blood pressure and delirium (acute confusion) in case of bacteremia
How Does A Staph Infection Spread?
Staph infections are contagious and can spread from one person to another when in close contact. It commonly occurs in school-going children since they often come in close contact with other children.
Since Staphylococci can be found in many parts of the body, staph infections spread among children in the following ways (5).
- Touching someone with an active staph infection
- Inhaling respiratory droplets expelled by an infected person while coughing or sneezing
- Touching a surface that has the staph bacteria on it
- Touching a staph-infected wound with bare hands
- Eating food with unwashed hands that contain staph bacteria
- Eating food that has been contaminated by staph bacteria
Treatment For Staph Infection
If you suspect your child to have an infection around their wound, visit a pediatrician. The treatment plan for staph infection is often based on the location of the infection, the type of infection, and its severity.
Below are the common treatment modalities used to cure staph infections in children (1).
- If your child has a boil or furuncle around a wound, the doctor will lance and drain it. It will be followed by a prescription of topical antibiotics.
- If the skin infection is minor, no lancing will be needed. The doctor will prescribe topical antibiotics.
- If skin’s staph infection is severe or the bacteria have spread to other parts of the body, such as the gastrointestinal tract, the doctor could prescribe oral antibiotics. The child must complete the entire course of medication even if the symptoms are gone in a few days.
- Severe staph infections, such as endocarditis, pneumonia, or bacteremia, require hospitalization and administration of intravenous antibiotics.
The prognosis of the infection will depend on its type and severity. The doctor may prescribe other medications to reduce the symptoms and subdue any discomfort. Certain staph bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), are resistant to conventional antibiotics. The child could be prescribed alternative antibiotics if infected by resistant staph bacteria.
Home Remedies For Staph Infection
There are no specific home remedies for staph infections. However, adequate wound care could reduce the spread of the infection and may even reduce its severity in some cases. Below are the steps to follow at home immediately after the child sustains an open wound (6).
- Wash the wound with clean running water. It will help remove any foreign material in the wound.
- Use soap to clean the wound for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with water. Pat it dry with a cotton ball or clean napkin and discard it.
- Apply any over-the-counter antiseptic ointment and cover it with a gauze bandage.
- If the wound is a burn wound, apply a thick layer of the ointment and leave it open.
Once you have provided basic wound care at home, take your child to a doctor. Gaping wounds could require stitches, while bite wounds and burn wounds could require specialized care and preventive medication.
How To Prevent Staph Infection In Children?
Staph infections in children can be prevented with timely wound care and adequate precautions. Below are some ways to prevent staph infections in children (7).
- Wash any wounds immediately after they occur. Apply an antiseptic ointment and cover it with a gauze bandage. If it is a bite or burn wound, consult a doctor soon.
- Teach your child good personal hygiene, such as washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after eating, and after coming from outdoors.
- Children must avoid sharing athletic equipment, clothes, towels, and napkins with other children.
- Teach your children not to put their hands in their mouth, eyes, or nose after visiting high-risk areas, such as a bathroom.
- A child must avoid close contact with children who have signs of cold, such as runny nose and cough.
- Always serve the child fresh, well-cooked, and hygienically-prepared food.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Does staph bacteria stay in the body forever?
Staph bacteria are commonly found on the skin and the other parts of the body. However, they do not cause harm. It is only when the bacteria enters the body and finds the right conditions that it multiplies to infect parts of the body.
2. Is rubbing alcohol good for staph infections?
Yes, staph bacteria are killed by alcohol rubs and sanitizers (8). Carrying alcohol-based hand sanitizers is advisable if you don’t have access to water and soap. You may also use rubbing alcohol to clean reusable items, such as scissors or tweezers, after dressing a child’s wound.
Staph infections are relatively common infections in all age groups, including children. An open skin wound is usually the most common entry point for the bacteria. Thankfully, the infection is easily preventable with appropriate preventive measures. If you suspect your child’s wound is infected, consult a doctor soon to prevent the spread of the bacteria to other parts of the body.
2. Anjali Jain and Robert S. Daum, Staphylococcal Infections in Children: Part 1, Pediatrics in Review
3. What Every Parent Needs to Know: 5 Facts About Staph Infections, Riley Children’s Health Indiana University
4. Staphylococcal Infections, U.S. National Library of Medicine
5. E. Gregory Thompson, Adam Husney, and Elizabeth T. Russo, Staph Infection, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital
6. Basic Wound Care University of Wisconsin–Madison
7. Signs and Symptoms of Staph Infection, Ann & Robert H Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
8. Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus What You Need to Know, California Department of Health Services
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