There are two types of staph symptoms you should be aware of — skin and invasive infections. Depending on which parts of your body the bacteria have infected, different illnesses (thus symptoms) may develop. Staph infection stages vary as well. Some infections start slow, while others produce sudden changes in your body.
Symptoms of Staphylococcal Skin Infections
The following list outlines the most common symptoms of staphylococcal skin infections, categorized by condition:1
Boils are one of the most common staph infections, and you may have possibly experienced them in the past. They occur when bacteria travel down hair follicles or oil glands.
As your white blood cells fight the bacteria, the site of infection becomes blocked due to an overgrowth of pus (a mixture of bacteria, proteins and white blood cells). Soon, the boil grows, becoming red and swollen. Other symptoms include tenderness and possibly a fever.
This condition occurs when staph bacteria enter through a crack in your skin, causing a red patch that gradually expands over time. Other symptoms include swelling, tenderness, warmth and blisters.2
Classic indicators of impetigo include pustules, which are small groups of blisters and honey-colored crusted erosions (also called school sores) that normally manifest on your face and hands. Impetigo commonly occurs among young school children, but adults may get it as well, especially if they have a weakened immune system.3
• Skin Abscess
A skin abscess is similar to a boil, but instead of being located on the surface of the skin, it is located underneath. The infected area becomes red, swollen and painful due to the presence of pus. There’s a chance you may develop a high fever as well.4
Folliculitis is the inflammation of a hair follicle, and may appear anywhere there is a large concentration of hair follicles, such as on the scalp, arms, chest or buttocks.5 The clearest indicator of this condition is the presence of red, swollen spots with a hair in the center of each one. They may contain pus that break open and drain as well.6
• Wound Infections
Bacteria may invade a fresh wound through the opening, worsening the condition. Symptoms of an infected wound include redness, swelling and the presence of pus.
• Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome (SSSS)
SSSS is a condition that starts with fever and skin irritability. Over time, a rash that resembles a burn or scald develops, hence the name.7 Other symptoms include peeling skin that shows a tender area, and wrinkling skin that is almost always followed by blisters.8
Symptoms of Invasive Staph Infections Can Be Severe and Life-Threatening
Invasive staph infections occur when bacteria infect your internal organs. Their chance of happening is lower compared to staph skin infections, but they generally cause more severe symptoms that can become life-threatening if not treated immediately. Below are the different invasive staph infections and their respective symptoms:9
Pneumonia is defined as the inflammation of air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs, causing difficulty in breathing, coughing, fever and chills. Fatigue may develop as well, due to the breathing problems you may experience.10
When staph bacteria cause inflammation in a joint, this condition is known as septic arthritis. Aside from inflammation, it is marked by redness, fever and joint pain. In some cases, you might not be able to move the infected joint at all.11
Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when staph bacteria enter your bloodstream. As your immune system repels the bacteria, it overacts as time goes by and eventually triggers widespread inflammation throughout your body. Strong indicators of sepsis include rapid breathing and heart rate, fever, chills and disorientation. If you’re diagnosed with this condition, you’re typically placed in an intensive care unit (ICU) until the infection is treated.12
Osteomyelitis is a bacterial infection of a bone.13 In children, it typically develops in the arms and legs, but for adults, it usually develops in the hips, spine and feet. Common indicators of this condition include pain and swelling on the surrounding area of the affected bone, fever, chills and difficulty to put weight on the affected bone.14
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
TSS is a sudden and potentially life-threatening condition characterized by overgrowth of staph in the bloodstream. Most cases of TSS are associated with prolonged tampon use among women, but it’s also possible for men and children of all ages to become affected with it.
As the bacteria quickly multiply, they release large amounts of toxins that your immune system cannot fight back.15 This causes a sudden onset of high fever, diarrhea, dizziness (and possibly fainting) and vomiting. You may also experience muscle pain and develop a skin rash that looks like a sunburn.16
This condition is characterized by an inflammation in the inner surface of your heart, called the endocardium. The symptoms of endocarditis vary, but there’s a high chance for you to develop a fever. Commonly documented symptoms include unexplained weight loss, headache, backache, shortness of breath and weakness in the limbs that resemble a stroke.17
Pyomyositis (or infectious myositis) is an infection in your skeletal muscle,18 the muscle group responsible for all voluntary movements, such as walking and jumping. The clearest indicator of this condition is muscle weakness, along with fatigue and difficulty breathing. You may also experience swallowing problems and develop a rash.19
Food poisoning is a gastrointestinal disease that occurs when staph bacteria are digested via contaminated food, causing symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.20
If You Think You Have a Staph Infection, Visit Your Doctor Immediately
If you develop any of the symptoms above, it’s important to visit your doctor right away, especially if the infection happens to be invasive. Getting immediate treatment will provide relief from symptoms and may prevent more complications from occurring.