Encyclopedia of Family Health - Vol. 15

By David B. Jacoby; Robert M. Youngson | Go to book overview

Staphylococcus

Questions and Answers

My son had a staphylococcal
infection. How does a germ come
to have a name like that?

When the early bacteriologists
first observed germs under a
microscope, they noticed that
many of them were spherical like
tiny berries. The Creek word for a
berry is kokkos so each one was
called a coccus (plural cocci).
Some cocci tended to form
clusters resembling bunches of
grapes. The Creek for a bunch of
grapes is staphyle, so this variety
of cocci were called staphylococci.
When pure cultures of certain
virulent staphylococci were grown
on suitable media they were seen
to be of a golden yellow color.
The Latin for golden is aureus, so
this species was named
Staphylococcus aureus. S. aureus is a
bacterium of great importance in
medicine.

What makes staphylococci stick
together in clumps?

It is what makes them prone to
cause disease. 5. aureus have on
their surfaces special chemical
receptors for a protein clumping
factor, fibrinogen, that is present
in the blood, and for proteins
called fibronectins that are
present on the surface
membranes of body cells. The
elements that cause staphylococci
to stick together also cause them
to stick to body cells so that they
can proceed to damage or kill
these cells.

Is it true that staphylococci cause
food poisoning?

Yes. A food handler with a
staphylococcal skin infection, such
as a boil, especially on the hands,
can contaminate the food with
toxins that cause an explosive
attack of illness within a few hours
after the food is eaten. Infected
food handlers should not have any
access to food served to the public.

The staphylococcus is one of the most common disease-producing germs and although at one time, soon after the discovery of penicillin, it was thought that this germ had been conquered, it is now causing doctors more problems than any other bacterium.

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria
magnified 320 times; they cause both
minor, and sometimes fatal, infections

Staphylococci of medical importance are spherical germs about one-thousandth of a millimeter in diameter. In the body they group into clusters like grapes. Under standard bacterial staining methods (Gram’s stain) they take a dark blue color and are said to be gram-positive. The most important species is Staphlococcus aureus (see Bacteria).

S. aureus are pus-forming organisms. They cause a range of skin infections such as boils, carbuncles, abscesses, impetigo, and the dangerous scalded skin syndrome in which the layers of the skin separate from each other. They can also cause toxic shock syndrome, food poisoning, sore throat (pharyngitis), pneumonia, and an infection of the inner heart lining called endocarditis. These germs are everywhere and it is almost Impossible to prevent any raw surface from becoming infected with staphylococci. They commonly infect severe burns and postoperative surgical incisions. The most dangerous aspect of staphylococci is the emergence of a strain known as MRSA that is resistant to almost all antibiotics (see Antibiotics).


How do staphylococci cause disease?

Like many other germs, staphylococci do harm by producing a wide range of damaging factors and specific poisons (toxins) that can kill cells. Their DNA contains genes that code for adhesion factors so that they can bind on to living cells, enzymes that break down proteins, enzymes that break down the fat molecules that form cell membranes, and virulent poisons that can kill tissue cells, kill the white cells of the immune system, and break down the red cells of the blood.

S. aureus has shown a remarkable capacity to change so as to survive under different environmental conditions. Almost from the time antibiotics were first produced, it has developed the ability to resist destruction by one new antibiotic after another. This evolutionary process has been assisted by a tendency for doctors to prescribe antibiotics unnecessarily for trivial conditions and for patients to fail to complete full courses of antibiotic treatment.


MRSA

After S. aureus became resistant to many antibiotics, a stage was reached at which infections with certain stains of it could be treated effectively only with the antibiotic methicillin. When methlcillin-resistant strains began to appear, the drug was withdrawn from general use. Today, over go percent of hospital strains of S. aureus are penicillin-resistant. This is a matter of great concern, as MRSA (methicillln-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are responsible for many deaths. Initially MRSA Infections occurred mainly in hospitals where the environment was suitable for the rapid evolution of bacterial antibiotic resistance, but Infections have now spread into the community and are becoming common there. The DNA in MRSA now codes for an enzyme that allows these strains to continue to synthesize their cell walls even if their normal penicillin-binding proteins have been Inactivated by methicillin. The structure of this enzyme was recently determined, providing scientists with the hope that there may be a solution to the MRSA threat.

See also: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria

-2062-

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Encyclopedia of Family Health - Vol. 15
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Spastic Colon 2022
  • Specimens 2024
  • Speculum 2027
  • Speech 2028
  • Speech Therapy 2032
  • Sperm 2034
  • Sphygmomanometer 2036
  • Spina Bifida 2037
  • Spinal Cord 2040
  • Spleen 2044
  • Splinters 2047
  • Splints 2048
  • Sports Injury 2050
  • Sports Medicine 2052
  • Sprains 2056
  • Stammering and Stuttering 2058
  • Staphylococcus 2062
  • Starch 2063
  • Stem Cell 2065
  • Stenosis 2067
  • Sterilization 2068
  • Steroids 2072
  • Stethoscope 2074
  • Stiffness 2076
  • Stillbirth 2080
  • Stimultants 2083
  • Stitch 2086
  • Stomach 2088
  • Stomach Pump 2091
  • Strangulation 2094
  • Streptococcus 2097
  • Stress 2098
  • Stress Management 2103
  • Stretch Marks 2105
  • Sty 2112
  • Subconscious 2114
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome 2116
  • Suffocation 2118
  • Sugars 2120
  • Suicide 2122
  • Sunburn 2126
  • Sunstroke 2130
  • Suppositories 2132
  • Surgery 2134
  • Surrogacy 2141
  • Sutures 2144
  • Swellings 2145
  • Symptoms 2149
  • Syphilis 2153
  • Syringing 2156
  • Index 2158
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