Staph bacteria can cause a wide range of infections, from relatively minor skin infections such as boils, to more serious infections of the blood, lungs, and heart. There are many types of Staphylococci, but most infections are caused by a group called Staphylococcus aureus.

Most infections caused by staph bacteria are relatively minor and only affect the skin or underlying tissue.

This group of bacteria includes meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is resistant to certain antibiotics that are commonly used for staph infections.

It also includes PVL-Staphylococcus aureus, which produces a toxin called Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL), which kills infection-fighting white blood cells and can cause recurrent skin infections, such as boils and abscesses.


Staph infections can be broadly classified into two groups: skin and soft tissue infections, and invasive infections. Here we focus on skin and soft tissue infections:

Most infections caused by staph bacteria are relatively minor and only affect the skin or underlying tissue. Common examples include:

  • Boils: red, painful lumps on the skin that usually develop on the neck, face, armpit, or buttocks
  • Impetigo: a highly contagious skin infection that mainly affects children, which can cause sores, blisters, and crusts to develop on the skin
  • Cellulitis: an infection of the deep layers of the skin, which can cause affected areas to quickly become red, painful, swollen, and hot
  • A skin abscess: a collection of pus that appears as a painful lump under the surface of the skin
  • Folliculitis: an infection of a hair follicle (small sac in the skin that a hair grows from), which causes an itchy pus-filled bump to develop
  • Wound infections: an infection of a cut or graze or surgical wound, causing redness, swelling, pain, and pus
  • Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS):a more serious condition that mainly affects babies and young children, where staph bacteria release a toxin that damages the skin, leading to extensive blistering that looks like the skin has been scalded



Staph bacteria are common. About one person in every three carries the bacteria harmlessly on their skin, usually inside their nose, and on the surface of their armpits and buttocks.

However, the bacteria can cause problems if they enter the body through a break in the skin, such as a cut or graze, burn, or insect bite.

Staph bacteria are usually spread between people through close skin contact or by sharing contaminated objects, such as towels or toothbrushes. Occasionally, they can be spread in droplets in the coughs and sneezes of someone carrying the bacteria.



Staph skin infections are common, particularly among children, teenagers, and young adults. Invasive infections are much rarer.

Both types of infection can affect healthy people, but more serious infections tend to affect those who:

  • have a weakened immune system because of an underlying medical condition or a side effect of treatment, such as chemotherapy
  • use medical equipment that goes directly inside their body, such as a urinary catheter
  • have experienced severe trauma to the skin, such as a deep wound or a major burn



Some minor staph infections, including minor boils and food poisoning, don’t need specific treatment and will get better on their own within a few days or weeks.

In some cases, antibiotic tablets or creams may be recommended to treat the infection, and you may need a minor procedure to drain any pus from under your skin, using a needle or scalpel.

Until the infection clears up, you should take precautions to avoid spreading the infection to other people. These include washing your hands regularly, not sharing objects that could become contaminated, regularly cleaning any pus off your skin, and covering the infected area with a dressing or plaster.



You can reduce your chances of developing staph infections by:

  • washing your hands with soap and warm water regularly – particularly if you come into contact with someone who has a staph skin infection
  • keeping your skin clean by having a bath or shower every day
  • keeping any cuts clean and covered
  • not sharing towels, washcloths, bed linen, toothbrushes and razors