Is a Staph Infection Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Staph Infection Risk Factors

Anyone can develop a staph infection, although certain groups of people are at greater risk, including newborn infants, breastfeeding women, and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, vascular disease, and lung disease. Injecting drug users, those with skin injuries or disorders, intravenous catheters, surgical incisions, and those with a weakened immune system due either to disease or a result of immune suppressing medications all have an increased risk of developing staph infections.

What is staph?

Staph is a term that is used to substitute for the genus name Staphylococcus; it is a general term that refers to all the various species and subtypes of these gram-positive, coccal-shaped (round) bacteria. The organisms, depending on the species, cause skin infections, (for example, cellulitis, boils, and wound infections), pneumonia, food poisoning, endocarditis, toxic shock syndrome, and many other illnesses. MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) can be difficult to treat since it is resistant to several antibiotics.

Is staph contagious?

Because many people carry several types and/or species of staph on their bodies, some researchers question whether or not some staph infections are truly contagious or if they arise from overgrowth of these organisms usually present on a person's skin and/or mucous membranes. However, it is known that given the right circumstances, even if the staph infection arises from organisms present on one's body, if another person has direct contact with the infectious staph bacteria and has a break in the skin or mucous membranes, the organisms and potentially the disease can be contagious. Casual contact, such as hugging or kissing an infected person, usually does not transfer the organisms. However, those staph organisms that cause food poisoning do so by producing a toxin; the toxin is not contagious but may occur in groups of people who eat the same contaminated food. Similarly, individuals who develop toxic shock syndrome have staph-produced toxins that are secreted from the infection site into the body.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/23/2016

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