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“Staphylococcus; a Friend or a Foe” – by Asmau Ahmad

On a hot sunny afternoon while passing through the road which links to a market, a car was parked by the side with a loudspeaker. A man was inside the car shouting ‘’ Maganin Staphylococcus azo a siya’’( meaning medicine for staphylococcus, come and buy), it just struck my mind thinking most people take staphylococcus to be a disease. When you hear the word staphylococcus, what pops into your mind?

What is Staphylococcus?

Many people have the notion that staphylococcus (singular; staphylococci) is a disease. Well staphylococcus is not a disease but a bacterium which causes various infections. There are many species of Staphylococci, most are completely harmless, and reside (live) normally on the skin and mucous membranes (nose, mouth, anus and vagina) of humans.

Staphylococcus as a friend protects our skin from opportunistic infections, when the skin is exposed to harmful substances it tends to create natural protective mechanism and not cause harm. In the majority of cases, the bacteria do not cause disease.

Staphylococcus becomes a foe (enemy) when there is damage to the skin or other injury, allowing the bacteria to overcome the natural protective mechanisms of the body, leading to infection when it enters the skin.

Staphylococcal diseases

Staphylococci can cause a wide variety of diseases in humans either through toxin production or invasion. Some of the species have recently become a major cause of hospital-acquired infections. One harmful species is Staphylococcus aureus, which can infect wounds. Staphylococcal disease of the skin usually results in a localized collection of pus, known as an abscess, boil, or furuncle, depending upon the exact type of lesion (breakage or opening) that is present. The affected area may be red, swollen, and painful. Drainage or pus is common. Staphylococcus infections can be spread through contact with pus from an infected wound, skin to skin contact with an infected person, and contact with objects such as towels, sheets, clothing, or athletic equipment used by an infected person.

When the bacteria enter the bloodstream and spread to other organs, a number of serious infections can occur. Spread of the organisms to the bloodstream is known as bacteremia or sepsis, it can cause high fevers, chills, and low blood pressure. When staylococcus enters the lungs, staphylococcal pneumonia predominantly affects people with underlying lung disease and can lead to abscess formation within the lungs. Infection of the heart valves (endocarditis) can lead to heart failure. Spread of Staphylococci to the bones can result in severe inflammation of the bones known as osteomyelitis.

Another example, the most common cause of food poisoning is staphylococcal toxins. The bacteria grow in improperly stored food, the cooking process kills them but the toxins they produce are heat resistant (cannot be killed by heat). Staphylococcal food poisoning is an illness of the bowels that causes nausea (feeling of vomit), vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. It is caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus rather than a true infection with the bacteria. Symptoms usually develop within one to six hours after eating contaminated food. The illness usually lasts for one to three days and resolves on its own. Patients with this illness are not contagious since toxins are not transmitted from one person to another.

Stapylococcus can also cause UTI’s M(Urinary tract infections) in 5% young males and females, but this type of infection is mostly rare.

Prevention of staphylococcus

People can take steps to help prevent staph infections. Any time a person has a cut or skin breakdown, wash the area with soap and water, keep it clean and dry, and keep it covered. An example of an outbreak among football players occurred when one team member had a boil and the infection was spread to other team members. A staphylococcal infection is contagious if the wound is draining and if people share towels or other items that are contaminated. If the sore becomes unusually painful or red, get prompt medical attention. If red lines develop, that’s a sign the infection is spreading and needs immediate medical attention.

Staphylococcal infections are contagious and can be transmitted from person to person. Since pus from infected wounds may contain the bacteria, proper hygiene and hand washing is required when caring for Staphylococcal infected wounds.

Asmau Ahmad is a Microbiologist and leave in Kano, Nigeria. She can be reached via asmeee@yahoo.com

 

 

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