Kids Health Info

Staphylococcal infections

  • Staphylococcus aureus (commonly referred to as 'staph') is a bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. It generally causes no problems or illness. But, if the bacteria enters the body through a wound, cut or graze, or open skin (such as through a 'drip' into a vein or broken skin such as in eczema), it may multiply and cause an infection. 

    Skin/wound infections

    Staph is one of the most common causes of skin infections and can cause serious wound infections.

    Antibiotic resistance

    Since the 1950s, some strains of staph have built up resistance to antibiotics. Staph that is resistant to the antibiotic methicillin is called methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). People in the community often refer to MRSA as 'golden staph' because the infected pus is yellow in colour.

    A staph or MRSA infection normally only develops in the elderly, the very sick or those who have an open wound. It can only be spread by physical contact. You cannot catch it just by being in the same room as the infected person. Good hand hygiene can prevent the spread of MRSA.

    Scalded skin syndrome

    This is caused by staph aureus and is usually seen in children under the age of two years. It can start with a lesion around the nose or mouth, which then quickly develops into a bright red area. When touched, the affected skin may peel off in sheets. If the child becomes seriously ill, antibiotic therapy is needed.

    Other infections:

    Staph aureus can cause other kinds of illnesses including bone infections, impetigo (school sores), pneumonia and blood stream infections (septicaemia).

    Signs and symptoms

    • Swelling of a wound.
    • The failure of a wound to completely heal.
    • Fever.
    • Redness and heat around a wound.
    • If a child has eczema, an affected area of skin may become infected with staph aureus.


    • Most staph infections are treated with antibiotics.
    • There are still some antibiotics that can successfully treat MRSA infections.
    • Recovery time will depend on the general overall health of the person. If the child has a poor immune system, then a staph infection can be quite serious.
    • Contact with a child's wound should be avoided and the wound may need to be covered with a dressing.
    • Good hygiene is essential. Hands need to be washed with soap and water. See the Kids Health Info factsheet: Hand hygine - why is it so important? for more information.

    Key points to remember

    • Staphylococcus is common. It is found on the skin and in the nose of 30-50 per cent of people without causing disease.
    • Staphylococcus will only cause an infection when it can enter through a wound or open skin.
    • Healthy people rarely become infected.
    • Staphylococcus can cause several different types of infections: skin/wound, gastrointestinal, pneumonia and blood stream infections.
    • Thoroughly washing your hands and avoiding skin-to-skin contact can prevent staphylococcus infections.

    When to come back

    If your child is prescribed antibiotics, the full course of antibiotics should be completed. If the infection does not get better please seek medical advice.

    For more information


    Developed by the Infection Control Department, RCH, Victoria. First published 2004. Updated December 2010.

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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.