What is
Staphylococcus aureus?
what is MRSA?

Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) is a common bacterium found on the skin and in the noses of up to 25% of healthy people and animals. Most of the time, staph does not cause any harm; however, sometimes staph causes infections. Staph has the ability to make toxins that can cause food poisoning. Staph infections are caused by different types of staph germs. 

Although methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is often better known, methicillin resistance does not increase the pathogenicity of the bacteria. Any staph infection can be dangerous even if it is not resistant to antibiotics. MRSA refers to bacterial strains that differ from other S. aureus strains only in their resistance to antibiotics. 

2013 CDC/ Antibiotic Resistance Coordination and Strategy Unit/Illustrator: Jennifer Oosthuizenn

what is staph food poisoning?

Staph food poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus.

The most common way for food to be contaminated with Staph is through contact with food workers who carry the bacteria, or through contaminated milk and cheeses. 

Staphylococcus aureus is salt tolerant and can grow in salty foods like ham. As the germ multiplies in food, it produces toxins that can cause illness. Staphylococcal toxins are resistant to heat and cannot be destroyed by cooking.

Foods at highest risk of contamination with Staph and subsequent toxin production are those that are made by hand and require no cooking.

Some examples of foods that have caused staph food poisoning are sliced meat, puddings, some pastries and sandwiches.

how do people get staph food poisoning?

People who carry staph can contaminate food if they don’t wash their hands before touching it.

If food is contaminated with staph, the bacteria can multiply in the food and produce toxins that can make people ill. Staph bacteria are killed by cooking, but the toxins are not destroyed and will still be able to cause illness.

Foods that are not cooked after handling are especially risky if contaminated with staph.

Food contaminated with staph toxin may not smell bad or look spoiled.

What are the symptoms
of staph food poisoning?

  • Staph food poisoning is characterized by a sudden start of nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Most people also have diarrhea.
  • Symptoms usually develop within 30 minutes to 8 hours after eating or drinking an item containing staph toxin, and last no longer than 1 day. Severe illness is rare.
  • The illness cannot be passed from one person to another.

You can suspect staph food poisoning based on the type of symptoms and their fast resolution. Although laboratory tests can detect toxin-producing staph in stool, vomit, and foods, these tests are usually not ordered except during an outbreak.

If you think you might have staph food poisoning and are experiencing severe symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.

4 steps to reduce your risk of MRSA infection:
Maintain good hand and body hygiene.
Clean your body regularly, especially after exercise.
Keep cuts, scrapes, and wounds clean and covered until healed.
Avoid sharing items such as towels and razors.

How is staph food poisoning treated?

The most important treatment is drinking plenty of fluids and getting rest. Your healthcare provider may give you medicine to decrease vomiting and nausea. People with severe illness may require intravenous fluids.

Antibiotics are not useful in treating this illness because the toxin is not affected by antibiotics.

who gets has the greatest risk of a staph infection?

Anyone can develop a staph infection, although certain groups of people are at greater risk, including people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, vascular disease, eczema, lung disease, and people who inject drugs.

In healthcare facilities, the risk of more serious staph infection is higher because many patients have weakened immune systems or have undergone procedures.

The risk of more serious staph infection is higher for patients in intensive care units (ICUs), and patients with medical devices inserted in their bodies.

How can I prevent staph food poisoning?

The best way to avoid food poisoning by staph is to prevent food from being held at an unsafe temperature (between 40°F and 140°F) for more than 2 hours.

Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the “Danger Zone” between 40°F and 140°F. Never leave perishable food out for more than 2 hours (or 1 hour if it’s hotter than 90°F outside).

Remember to always follow these food safety tips:

  • Use a food thermometer and cook foods to their safe minimum internal temperature.
  • Keep hot foods hot (140°F or hotter) and cold foods cold (40°F or colder).
  • Store cooked food in wide, shallow containers and refrigerate within 2 hours (or 1 hour if it’s hotter than 90° F outside).
  • Keep kitchens and food-serving areas clean and sanitized.

The following tips that are part of the four steps to food safety – clean, separate, cook, and chill – also can help protect you and your loved ones from food poisoning:

  • Wash your hands and under your fingernails for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during, and after preparing food, and before eating.
  • Do not prepare food if you have a nose or eye infection.
  • Do not prepare or serve food for others if you have wounds or skin infections on your hands or wrists.
  • Do not prepare food if you are ill with diarrhea or vomiting.
  • Wear gloves while preparing food if you have wounds or infections on your hands or forearms.

what are the symptoms
of a mrsa infection?

The symptoms of a MRSA infection depend on the part of the body that is infected. For example, people with MRSA skin infections often can get swelling, warmth, redness, and pain in infected skin.

In most cases it is hard to tell if an infection is due to MRSA or another type of bacteria without laboratory tests that your doctor can order. Some MRSA skin infections can have a fairly typical appearance and can be confused with a spider bite. However, unless you actually see the spider, the irritation is likely not a spider bite.

Most S. aureus skin infections, including MRSA, appear as a bump or infected area on the skin that might be:

  • red
  • swollen
  • painful
  • warm to the touch
  • full of pus or other drainage
  • accompanied by a fever

who can get infected with MRSA?

Anyone can get MRSA.

The risk increases with activities or places that involve crowding, skin-to-skin contact, and shared equipment or supplies.

Some of the people who carry MRSA can go on to get a MRSA infection. Non-intact skin, such as when there are abrasions or incisions, is often the site of an MRSA infection.

Athletes, daycare and school students, military personnel in barracks, and those who receive inpatient medical care or have surgery or medical devices inserted in their body are at higher risk of MRSA infection.

what if i see these symptoms?

You cannot tell by looking at the skin if it’s a staph infection (including MRSA).

Getting medical care early makes it less likely that the infection will become serious.

If you or someone in your family experiences the signs and symptoms of MRSA:

  • Contact your healthcare provider, especially if the symptoms are accompanied by a fever.
  • Do not pick at or pop the sore.
  • Cover the area with clean, dry bandages until you can see a healthcare provider.
  • Clean your hands often.

how is mrsa spread?

MRSA is usually spread in the community by contact with infected people or things that are carrying the bacteria. This includes through contact with a contaminated wound or by sharing personal items, such as towels or razors, that have touched infected skin.

The opioid epidemic may also be connected to the rise of staph infections in communities. People who inject drugs are 16 times more likely to develop a serious staph infection.

How do I prevent the spread of mrsa?

The symptoms of a MRSA infection depend on the part of the body that is infected. For example, people with MRSA skin infections often can get swelling, warmth, redness, and pain in infected skin.

  • Cover your wounds with clean, dry bandages until healed.
    Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions about proper care of the wound. Pus from infected wounds can contain MRSA.
  • Do not pick at or pop the sore.
  • Throw away bandages and tape with the regular trash.
  • Clean your hands often.
    You, your family, and others in close contact should wash hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub, especially:
  • after changing a bandage
  • after touching an infected wound
  • after touching dirty clothes
  • Do not share personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, and clothing, including uniforms. 
  • Wash laundry before use by others and clean your hands after touching dirty clothes.
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