Navigate Up

Seniors Center - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Staph infections - hospital


“Staph” is short for “staphylococcus.”It is pronounced like the word “staff.” Staph is a germ that can cause infections in any part of the body, but most of these are skin infections. Staph can infect openings in the skin, like scratches, and pimples or skin cysts. Anyone can get a staph infection.

Hospital patients can get staph infections of the skin:

  • Any place where a catheter or tube enters their body. This includes chest tubes, urinary catheters, IVs, or central lines.
  • In surgical wounds, pressure sores (also called bed sores), or foot ulcers

Once the staph germ enters the body, it can spread to bones, joints, the blood, or any organ, such as the lungs, heart, or brain.

Staph can also spread easily from one person to another.

Staph Infections in the Hospital

Most staph germs are spread by skin-to-skin contact (touching). A doctor, nurse, other health care provider, or even visitors may have staph germs on their body and then spread them to a patient. This can happen when:

  • A person develops a staph infection at home and brings this germ to the hospital.
  • A doctor, nurse, other health care provider, or visitor touches a patient who has a staph infection.

If the person then touches another patient without washing their hands first, the staph germs may spread.

Also, a patient may have a small staph infection before coming to the hospital. This can occur without the patient even being aware of it.

Staph infections less often occur when a patient directly touches clothing, sinks, and other objects.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus  (MRSA) is a type (strain) of the staph germ that does not get better with the antibiotics that are commonly used to treat staph infections.

How Do You Know if You Have a Staph Infection?

Anytime an area of your skin appears red, swollen, or crusty, a staph infection may be the cause. The only way to know for sure is to do a culture.

To do the culture, your health care provider may use a cotton swab to collect a sample from an open skin rash or skin sore. A sample may also be taken from a wound, blood, or sputum (spit). The sample is sent to the lab for testing.

What Are the Risk Factors for a Staph Infection?

Many healthy people normally have staph on their skin. Most of the time, it does not cause an infection or symptoms. This is called colonization. But if you are sick or in the hospital, your risk for developing a staph infection is higher. Some people who are colonized by staph go on to develop an infection due to staph that can make them sick.

Common risk factors for developing a serious staph infection are:

  • Being in a hospital or other type of care facility for a long time
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Injecting illegal drugs
  • Being on kidney dialysis

Preventing Staph Infections in the Hospital

The best way to prevent the spread of staph is for everyone to keep their hands clean. It is important to wash your hands properly.

Patients and visitors should:

  • Wash their hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Wash and scrub their backs, palms, fingers, and between fingers thoroughly.
  • Dry with a clean paper towel.

Alcohol-based gels may also be used if your hands do not look dirty.

  • These gells should be at least 60% alcohol.
  • Use enough gel to completely wet your hands.
  • Rub your hands until they are dry.

Ask visitors to wash their hands before they come into your hospital room. They should also wash their hands when they leave your room.

Health care workers and other hospital staff can prevent staph infection by:

  • Washing their hands before and after they touch every patient
  • Wearing gloves and other protective clothing when they treat wounds, IVs, and catheters, and when they handle body fluids
  • Always using the proper sterile technique
  • Promptly cleaning up after dressing (bandage) changes, procedures, surgeries, and spills
  • Always using sterile equipment and sterile technique when taking care of patients and equipment
  • Checking for and promptly reporting any sign of wound infections

Many hospitals encourage patients to ask their health care providers if they have washed their hands. As a patient, you have the right to do this.


Fishman N, Calfee DP. Prevention and control of health care-associated infections.In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed.Philadelphia,PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 290.

Updated: 2/26/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA