Staphylococcus

Staphylococcus (in Greek staphyle means bunch of grapes and coccos means granule) is a genus of Gram-positive bacteria. Under the microscope they appear round (cocci), and form in grape-like clusters.

The Staphylococcus genus includes thirty-one species. Most are harmless and reside normally on the skin and mucous membranes of humans and other organisms. Found worldwide, they are a small component of soil microbial flora.

Staphylococci can cause a wide variety of diseases in humans and other animals through either toxin production or invasion. Staphylococcal toxins are a common cause of food poisoning, as it can grow in improperly-stored food. Although the cooking process kills them, the enterotoxins are heat-resistant and can survive boiling for several minutes. Staphylococci can grow in foods with relatively low-water activity (such as cheese and salami).

One pathogenic species is Staphylococcus aureus, which can infect wounds. These bacteria can survive on dry surfaces, increasing the chance of transmission. S. aureus is also implicated in toxic shock syndrome; during the 1980s some tampons allowed the rapid growth of S. aureus, which released toxins that were absorbed into the bloodstream. Any S. aureus infection can cause the staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome, a cutaneous reaction to exotoxin absorbed into the bloodstream. It can also cause a type of septicaemia called pyaemia. Getting this infection can be very serious, frequently resulting in death. Problematically, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has become a major cause of hospital-acquired infections, and is being recognized with increasing frequency in community-acquired infections.

The coagulase-positive Staphylococcus that inhabits and sometimes infects the skin of domestic dogs and cats is Staphylococcus intermedius. This organism, too, can carry the genetic material that imparts multiple bacterial resistance. It is rarely implicated in infections in humans, as a zoonosis.

S. epidermidis, a coagulase-negative staphylococcus species, is a commensal of the skin, but can cause severe infections in immune-suppressed patients and those with central venous catheters. S

S. aprophyticus, another coagulase-negative species that is part of the normal vaginal flora, is predominantly implicated in genitourinary tract infections in sexually-active young women.

In recent years, several other Staphylococcus species have been implicated in human infections, notably S. lugdunensis, S. schleiferi, and S. caprae.

S. aureus is also one of the most common causes of closed-space infections of the fingertips, known as paronychia.