The Staphylococcus genus bacteria are omnipresent, even in clean environments. These bacteria colonize the noses and skin of healthy individuals, and while they are quite pathogenic, normal immune systems keep the bacteria at bay, such that it’s possible to carry the bacteria around without getting sick. While staph infections used to appear mostly in the immunocompromised, the incidence of infection among healthy infants has been on the rise lately, as noted in a 2005 article reported in the "Seattle P.I." Infections in infants may be quite serious, causing sloughing of the skin and leaving infants susceptible to dehydration and other infections, or they may result only in mild skin blistering and irritation. Most staph infections respond quite readily to antibiotics.
Scalded Skin Syndrome
According to Children’s Hospital Boston, one manifestation of a staph infection in infants is reddened, peeling skin that looks as though it has been burned—hence the name “scalded skin syndrome.” This disease process manifests itself first through fever and reddening of the skin. Fluid-filled blisters begin to form on the skin, generally around the umbilicus of infants. When the blisters pop, they leave raw, moist-looking areas of peeling skin behind. The syndrome also includes systemic symptoms, including fevers, chills and dehydration. While scalded skin syndrome can be life-threatening, it generally responds to antibiotic treatment.
Another symptom of staph infection in infants is folliculitis, according to KidsHealth. Staph can colonize hair follicles, leading to large areas of irritated, itchy skin that may become covered with pus-filled bumps. While good hygiene helps clear up mild cases of folliculitis, left unchecked, the infection can spread into the sebaceous, or oil-producing, glands of the skin, producing large infection-filled pockets called boils. These are generally quite painful, and may require antibiotic treatment.
KidsHealth also notes that staph infections can result in impetigo, which is a blistering around the nose and mouth. While impetigo is fairly common in school-age children, it can also affect infants exposed to staph. Blisters fill with fluid, then pop, leaving crusted, reddened areas of exposed deep skin layers. Because it’s caused by a bacterial infection, impetigo is contagious. The contagion is exacerbated by the fact that the blisters often itch, leading infants to scratch at them. Bacteria under the fingernails can then be transmitted to other infants or children.
Occasionally, staph infections may lead to meningitis, or an infection of the tissue layers surrounding the spinal cord and brain. While the most common symptoms of meningitis are stiffness and pain of the neck and headache, these symptoms can be quite difficult to notice in infants. As such, the Meningitis Foundation of America recommends watching infants for irritability, nausea, vomiting and difficulty feeding. Staph meningitis is diagnosed through a spinal tap, and is then treated with antibiotics.