Treating staphylococcal infections 

Most staphylococcal infections are treated with antibiotics or by draining the infection. Invasive staphylococcal infections will often require hospital treatment.

Staphylococcal skin infections

Once your doctor has diagnosed which type of infection you have, they will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics. It's important to finish the course of medication even if the symptoms clear up.

Antibiotics can be used to treat the following staphylococcal infections.

  • Folliculitis - Antibiotic cream or tablets may be prescribed to treat folliculitis. Your doctor may also recommend that you avoid shaving the affected area until the infection clears.
  • Impetigo - Antibiotic cream can usually be used to treat impetigo. A seven day course of tablets may be prescribed if the condition does not respond, or if the impetigo is widespread and severe. Read more about treating impetigo.
  • Cellulitis - Cellulitis usually responds quickly to antibiotics and you should soon find your symptoms starting to ease. If your symptoms get worse 48 hours after taking the antibiotics, or you start to develop additional symptoms, such as a high temperature or vomiting, contact your GP immediately. Read more about treating cellulitis.
  • Wound infection - Depending on the severity and the extent of your infection, antibiotic tablets or injections may be recommended. In the most severe cases, surgery may be needed to remove dead or damaged tissue from the wound.
  • Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS) - SSSS and toxic shock are usually regarded as a medical emergency because the infection can spread beyond the skin and into the body. It requires prompt treatment with antibiotic injections.

Boils and abscesses

Smaller boils and abscesses can often be treated at home. You can wait for them to drain naturally and then cover the wound with a sterile gauze or dressing or apply a warm facecloth to the boil for 10 minutes, three or four times a day, to speed up the healing process. Wash your hands thoroughly after touching a boil to prevent the bacteria spreading.

Your GP will probably need to treat larger boils and abscesses, particularly if they are soft and spongy - as this means they are unlikely to burst by themselves. Your GP will remove the pus using a technique called incision and drainage. In some cases, your GP may refer you to your local hospital to have this procedure.

Incision and drainage involves piercing the tip of the boil or abscess with a sterile needle or scalpel. This encourages the pus to drain out which should help relieve pain and stimulate the healing process. Before having the procedure, you are likely to be given local anaesthetic to numb the affected area.

As tempting as it may be, you should never attempt to squeeze or pierce the abscess or boil yourself because this can spread the infection.

If you have had a lot of boils and abscesses, it may be because of underlying diabetes or because you are carrying an uncommon type of bacteria called PVL-producing S. aureus.

Read more information about the causes of staphylococcal infections.

Invasive staphylococcal infections

Most cases of invasive staphylococcal infections need to be treated in hospital. This is because your body’s functions may need to be supported while the infection is treated.

Invasive infections are treated with antibiotic injections. Most people will require a seven to 10 day course.

If the strain of bacteria responsible for the infection is not resistant to antibiotics, an antibiotic called nafcillin is usually prescribed. Side effects of nafcillin are usually mild and include nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

If the infection is caused by meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic called vancomycin is prescribed. Side effects of vancomycin are uncommon but if they occur they can be serious. They include:

  • allergic reactions, such as skin rashes, itching or hives and swelling of the face, lips or tongue
  • difficulty breathing
  • a change in the amount or colour of your urine
  • a change in hearing, such as hearing loss
  • dizziness
  • redness, blistering, peeling or loosening of the skin, including inside the mouth
  • unusual bleeding, such as bleeding from the gums or nose
  • feeling unusually weak or tired

Staphylococcal food poisoning

Most cases of staphylococcal food poisoning can be treated at home without the need of medical attention. It's important to make sure you do not become dehydrated because this will slow your recovery time.

Fluid can be lost through vomiting and diarrhoea so try to sip water regularly throughout the day, particularly after passing a loose stool.  

Read more about treating food poisoning.

Page last reviewed: 22/05/2013

Next review due: 22/05/2015