Each week, OMRF Chief Medical Officer Dr. Judith James opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from Adam Cohen, OMRF’s senior vice president & general counsel.
A friend’s son went to urgent care for unexplained swelling and numbness in his arm, accompanied by a fever. The physician suspected a bug bite had caused a staph infection; she prescribed antibiotics, and, happily, the symptoms soon resolved.
However, it left me wondering: How would an insect bite cause a staph infection? Do bugs carry staph that can infect humans?
Dr. James Prescribes
Bug bites don’t cause staph infections on their own. However, when an insect or spider bites someone, it can create an avenue for bacteria to get into the body’s tissues. This may lead to an infection that can become serious if left untreated.
Staphylococcus aureus, or staph, is a type of bacteria often found on the skin and in the upper respiratory tracts of healthy people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 33% of people carry staph in their nose, typically without any illness.
When staph can find a way to get deeper into the body – like through a bug bite that has been itched enough to damage the skin – it can lead to cellulitis, an infection that causes red, swollen skin and fever.
Healthcare providers treat these infections with antibiotics, and most people recover quickly. If it goes unchecked, a skin abscess can develop. Very rarely, if untreated, it can lead to widespread infection of the bloodstream, bones, joints or heart.
You can monitor a bug bite by drawing a border around its affected area. If the red, swollen area continues to expand once 24 hours have passed from the initial bite, or if there are signs of infection like swollen lymph nodes, fever, or red streaks in the skin leading away from the bite, contact your healthcare provider right away.
To lower the risk of infection, clean bug bites with soap and warm water and use an ointment to relieve itching. If the skin is broken, apply antibiotic ointment and cover the area with a bandage. When a bug inevitably makes it past your repellent this summer, try not to worry; their stings typically result in nothing more than bite-sized irritation.
Do you have a health query for Dr. James? Email email@example.com and your question may be answered in a future column!