What is Staphylococcus Aureus?

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Staphylococcus aureus is a type of bacteria. It stains Gram positive and is non-moving small round shaped or non-motile cocci. It is found in grape-like (staphylo-) clusters. This is why it is called Staphylococcus.

Who does Staphylococcus aureus affect?

Staphylococcus is one of the five most common causes of infections after injury or surgery. It affects around 500,000 patients in American hospitals annually. It is abbreviated to “S. aureus” or “Staph aureus” in medical literature. S. aureus was discovered in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1880 by the surgeon Sir Alexander Ogston in pus from surgical abscesses.

Staphylococcus aureus
Bacterial cells of the bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus) which is one of the causal agents of mastitis in dairy cows. Its large capsule protects the organism from attack by the cow’s immunological defenses. Magnified 50,000X. Image Credit: arsusda.gov

Staphylococcaceae Family

Staphylococcus aureus belongs to the family Staphylococcaceae. It affects all known mammalian species, including humans.  Further due to its ability to affect a wide range of species, S. aureus can be readily transmitted from one species to another. This includes transmission between humans and animals.

Transmission of Staphylococcus aureus

S. aureus may occur commonly in the environment. S. aureus is transmitted through air droplets or aerosol. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, he or she releases numerous small droplets of saliva that remain suspended in air. These contain the bacteria and can infect others.

Another common method of transmission is through direct contact with objects that are contaminated by the bacteria or by bites from infected persons or animals. Approximately 30% of healthy humans carry S. aureus in their nose, back of the throat and on their skin.

Clinical manifestation of infection

Around one third of healthy individuals carry this bacteria in their noses, pharynx and on their skin. In normal healthy and immunocompentent person, S. aureus colonization of the skin, intestinal tract, or nasopharynx does not lead to any symptoms or disease.

When S. aureus is isolated from an abscess or boil or other skin lesion, it is usually due to its secondary invasion of a wound rather than the primary cause of disease. S. aureus may similarly be isolated from abscesses, breast absecesses or mastitis, dermatitis or skin infections and genital tract infections.

S. aureus is considered the classic opportunist in this way since it takes advantage of broken skin or other entry sites to cause an infection.

In animals and humans that are immunocompromised or immunodeficient, this bacteria may be life threatening. It may lead to pyogenic (abscessing) infections of the skin, eyes and genital tract.

What does S. aureus cause?

Of the variety of manifestations S. aureus may cause:

  • Minor skin infections, such as pimples, impetigo etc.
  • It may cause boils (furuncles), cellulitis folliculitis, carbuncles
  • It is the cause of scalded skin syndrome and abscesses
  • It may lead to lung infections or pneumonia
  • Brain infections or meningitis
  • Bone infections or osteomyelitis
  • Heart infections or endocarditis
  • Generalized life threatening blood infections or Toxic shock syndrome (TSS), bacteremia and septicaemia


Presence of S. aureus in culture is normally insignificant since this bacteria is normally present on the skin, nose and pharynx of many humans and animals. The organism is readily cultured from nasopharynx or skin, or by culture of suspicious lesions.

On culture the bacterial colonies a characteristic glistening, opaque, yellow to white appearance on blood agar.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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  1. Ana Cuenca Ana Cuenca United States says:

    How long does it take to cure? My sister got it and it was very difficult for the doctors to identified the illness. Then she stared taking some heavy antibiotics: Sulfamethoxazole tmp ds and Cephalexin 500 mg.... after 3 days of these medications it stared to get better but it is still not going away. So my question is would 10 days of antibiotics be enough. She has iron deficiency so this may be something to consider....

  2. Ana Cuenca Ana Cuenca United States says:

    Triamcinolone Acetonide, Triple Antibiotic Ointment, Clotrimazole, Betamethasone and Ketoconazole. She had a fungus infection so we are thinking this was the entry poin of the Staphylococcus. Her skin is very dry so, I told her to continue the creams (but, Since I am not a doctor, lol) I figure it to ask you!

  3. Lina Rasull Lina Rasull Iraq says:

    u can give me a fully description of the bacteria?

  4. Kimberly Mathis Shumaker Kimberly Mathis Shumaker United States says:

    is it true that it can enter the body via an infected hair...tunneling into tissue due to it being bacterial destroying matter...development of abscesses....????is it similar to the flesh eating amoeba???

  5. Robert Pack Robert Pack United States says:

       This is what is says on my health record. Does this mean I have this bacteria?

    Gram Stain (Final)
    No Polymorphonuclear Leukocytes
    Moderate Gram Positive Cocci

    Isolate 1 (Final)
    Escherichia coli

    Isolate 2 (Final)
    Staphylococcus aureus

    Isolate 1 Isolate 2
    Escherichia coli Staphylococcus

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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