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Diseases & Topics

Staphylococcus aureus

Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacterium found on the skin and in the noses of about one in four healthy people and animals. Under certain conditions, the bacteria can cause illness by causing various kinds of infections or by producing toxins (poisons) that make people sick. The most frequent types of infections caused by this organism are food poisoning, skin infections, and healthcare-associated infections.

Food poisoning from Staphylococcus aureus

Staphylococcus aureus has the ability to make seven different toxins that are frequently responsible for food poisoning. Staphylococcal food poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness that causes nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. It is caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by the bacteria. The illness is usually mild, and most patients recover after one to three days. In a small minority of patients, the illness may be more severe. Foods that are frequently incriminated in staphylococcal food poisoning include meat and meat products; poultry and egg products; salads such as egg, tuna, chicken, potato and macaroni; bakery products such as cream-filled pastries, cream pies and chocolate eclairs; sandwich fillings; and milk and dairy products. Foods that require considerable handling during preparation and that are kept at slightly elevated temperatures after preparation are frequently involved in staphylococcal food poisoning.

S. aureus infections in healthcare and community settings

Staph bacteria can also become resistant to certain antibiotics and cause hard-to-treat skin infections and other illness, especially in healthcare settings. Such illnesses are often known as healthcare-associated infections, or "HAIs." The form of the bacteria resistant to such antibiotics as methicillin is known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is also found as a skin infection in community settings, such as gyms. The toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus can also cause toxic shock syndrome, a serious and potentially fatal disease. Staph bacteria that have developed resistance to the antimicrobial agent vancomycin are known as vancomycin-intermediate Staphylococcus aureus, or VISA, and vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or VRSA.

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