“Infection” is one of those words you never want to hear. “Infectious,” sure — when it’s in relation to baby smiles or catchy tunes. But an infection? No, thank you. Our aversion to the word probably goes back to when we were kids, and anytime we got a cut or scrape of some kind, it was scrubbed with soap and water, or doused with hydrogen peroxide “so it doesn’t get infected.” But preventing an infection isn’t always that simple — especially when it comes to babies, toddlers, and other kids. And that includes staph infections. Here’s what to know about staph infections in infants and children of varying ages, how to spot them, treat them, and when to call a doctor.
How can a baby get a staph infection?
Before we get into that, what is a staph infection, exactly? Well, “staph” is the shortened version of Staphylococcus — a type of usually harmless bacteria that lives on a variety of skin surfaces, especially around the nose, mouth, genitals, and anus, according to KidsHealth. The trouble starts when an infant, toddler, or child’s skin is broken or punctured in some way, allowing the bacteria to get into their little body.
What does a staph infection look like in a baby, toddler, or child?
Here’s the tricky part: a staph infection can take many different forms, so it’s not just a matter of keeping an eye out for one particular symptom. While there are other ways a staph infection can show up in a baby, toddler, or older kid, here are some of the most common, courtesy of KidsHealth:
- Cellulitis: Begins as a small area of redness, pain, swelling, and warmth on the skin, usually on the legs, and may cause a fever as it spreads.
- Wound infections: Same symptoms as cellulitis, with the addition of pus or a cloudy fluid that can drain from the wound and develop a yellow crust.
- Folliculitis: An infection of the hair follicles. Tiny white-headed pimples appear at the base of hair shafts, sometimes with a small red area around each pimple.
- A boil: Also known as a furuncle. Swollen, red, painful lumps in the skin (usually caused by an infected hair follicle) that fill with pus, growing larger and more painful until it ruptures and drains. Most frequently found on the face, neck, buttocks, armpits, and inner thighs. A cluster of several boils is called a carbuncle, which may cause a fever.
- Impetigo: Begins as a small blister or pimple, and then develops a honey-colored crust. A superficial skin infection is most common in young children, usually on the face, hands, or feet.
- A stye: A red, warm, uncomfortable bump near the edge of the eyelid.
- Scalded skin syndrome: Starts with a small staph skin infection, that then affects skin all over the body, causing fever, rash, and sometimes blisters. As blisters burst and the rash passes, the top layer of skin sheds, and the skin surface becomes red and raw, like a burn. This definitely requires professional medical treatment. Most common in newborns and kids under age five.
How do you treat staph infection in babies?
If you think your baby, toddler, or child may have a staph infection, it’s best to check in with your doctor to get their opinion. If your child has a fever or the skin around the infected wound becomes red and hot or has a stye that doesn’t go away after several days, the pediatrician may want you to come into the office for further evaluation.
In most cases, though, minor staph infections can be treated from home, using these options from KidsHealth:
- Soaking the affected area in warm water or applying warm, moist washcloths. (Only use a towel once, then wash in soap and hot water.)
- Applying antibiotic ointment, if recommended by your doctor.
- Giving your child pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease pain until the infection goes away, following instructions on the package and/or from your doctor.
- Covering the infected skin with a clean dressing or bandage.
- Treating a stye using warm compresses over the eye (with the eye closed) three or four times a day. (Again, only use a washcloth once.)
Natural Remedies for Staph Infection
Staph infections are common but can become severe. So, if you want some natural remedies to help heal the infection, there are several oils you can use to treat it. This includes coconut oil, eucalyptus essential oil, tea tree oil, and oregano essential oil. These oils, along with apple cider vinegar, are filled with antimicrobial agents that help combat infection.
Are staph infections contagious?
Staph infections aren’t typically contagious; however, if a person with an infection has broken skin, it can be passed along to others. A hug probably won’t spread it, but being in contact with someone’s leaking impetigo can spread it to another person’s skin. A staph skin infection’s contagion period doesn’t last long. They’re usually aren’t infectious after one to two days of antibiotics.
Can staph infections be deadly for babies?
Technically, anyone of any age can die from a staph infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so yes, that includes babies. Low-birthweight infants are at the highest risk of something bad happening, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Pediatrics. But the good news is that these deaths are preventable — which is why it’s so important to talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about some aspect of their infection.
How long can staph live on surfaces?
Staph can be transmitted from an infected person through skin-to-skin contact. But, it can also linger on objects like soap, clothes, and sheets. It can live on surfaces for about 24 hours. So, if someone in your family has had a staph infection, clean the sheets and clothes by washing them in hot water and placing them in the dryer. To clean surfaces, wipe them down with a disinfectant or a bleach-water solution.
*Remember when using bleach, keep windows and doors open so air circulates to prevent any breathing complications.
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