Staph Infection: The Misconceptions
“Staph” is arguably one of the most widely known disease-causing microbes in Nigeria. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first meaningful babble a Nigerian toddler makes is “staph.” I wouldn’t.
The reason for this is not far fetched as we have rickety cars, mounted with broken speakers, at every nook and cranny, blaring it, and accusing it of being responsible for virtually all the health inequities that plagues man.
” Staff ! Sta-fi-lo-ca-cus !! Staff air-rus !!! Ngwaa lee nke anyuru anyu; come and see the peed form…”
With these speakers continuously assaulting our ears with the “Staph message,” we are all too “staph conscious” that once we think STIs, the first thing that comes to mind is “Staph.” This “Staph mentality” has so eaten deep into our minds that the average lady believes that the slightest vaginal discharge, whether physiological or not, is “Staph” knocking at her door.
To further worsen the situation, the road side labs are not helping, as a trip to such labs, for a vaginal swab test, almost always comes out with a result showing “heavy growth of Staph aureus seen.”
How do you start dispelling a notorious misconception that has been propagated over the ages, that has been buried deep into the subconscious of the society by blaring speakers, and has been constantly “confirmed” empirically by the “all mighty” lab tests?
Well, you just try; starting with education.
THE FACTS ABOUT “STAPH”
“Staph” is actually the short form of a disease-causing microbe called Staphylococcus aureus, which is an organism normally found in the skin. It could also be found colonising the nasal mucosa [inner lining of the nose], the buccal cavity [the inside of the mouth], and the ears.
In its normal state in these areas of the body, it is purely HARMLESS.
However, with breeches in the epithelium [protective covering, so to say] lining these areas, say a break in the skin, it can enter the deeper tissues and cause considerable harm as follows;
In the SKIN, it can cause infections like:
• Furuncles/ boils
It can also cause RESPIRATORY TRACT INFECTIONS like :
If ingested in food, the toxins can cause FOOD POISONING with resultant diarrhoeal disease.
From these points, it can gain access into the blood stream, causing Staphylococcal Bacteremia, which can be complicated by :
• Endocarditis [infection of the inner lining of the heart]
• Osteomyelitis [infection of the bones]
• Septic Arthritis [joint infections]
• Toxic Shock Syndrome
“STAPH” AND GENITAL INFECTIONS
It is imperative to state unequivocally here that Staph DOES NOT CAUSE PID [Pelvic Inflammatory Disease] , neither does it cause any other form of STI [Sexually Transmitted Infection] ! Disregard those noisy speakers and GET THAT INTO YOUR HEAD today!
One may then be surprised why most of the vaginal swab tests comes out with a result showing “heavy growth of staph.”
Well, “Staph” being ubiquitous, is a mere laboratory contaminant, and not the causative agent. This means that while vaginal swabs are being taken, Staph– a relatively harmless organism as far as the female genital tract is concerned– may contaminate the specimen, perhaps when the swab stick mistakenly touches the skin of the vulva, or lower vagina.
Also contamination of specimen may be from the laboratory itself. And a report of “heavy growth of staph” may also be misinterpretation of the slides by an inexperienced lab personnel.
It is also important to note that “Staph” is not a [common] cause of UTI [Urinary Tract Infection]. Studies have shown that most cases of Staph Bacteruria [presence of Staph in urine] are mere secretion of the organism in urine in the setting of a concomitant Bacteremia [presence in blood], and is usually unaccompanied by the classical symptoms of UTI.
In catheterized patients, however, Staph may colonise the urethral catheter and, if heavy enough, may lead to an established urinary tract infection.
“Staph” is not a known cause of any form of STI.
Even when vaginal swabs shows “heavy growth of Staph,” it should be disregarded, and the real cause of such discharges, if at all abnormal, should be sought for.
I also want to use this opportunity to reemphasize that not all vaginal discharges are abnormal! And that treating of the “normal discharges” would only clear the protective, “good” vaginal microbes, and may thus lead to serious issues like Candidiasis and Bacterial vaginosis.
If it is not copious, or foul smelling, or doesn’t have an unusual color, and or consistency; if it is not associated with any of the following: itching, rashes, sores, excessive pain during sex, abnormally painful periods, abdominal pain, fever, painful and frequent urination, etc; it is UNLIKELY an abnormal vaginal discharge.
As always, when in doubt, visit a gynaecologist.