How Long Does Staph Live on Surfaces?

by Catherine Rein
(last updated April 22, 2009)

Staph bacteria (full scientific name Staphylococcus aureus) can live on surfaces for up to several weeks, depending on the humidity level. It normally lives on the surface of the skin or in the nose of about one third of the population and does not cause infections unless the person has had surgery or other type of injury. Most healthy people are able to fight off a Staph infection or have only mild symptoms. People with weakened immune systems can develop more serious problems. Follow these steps to prevent a serious staph infection:

  1. Keep Hands Clean. Thoroughly clean hands with soap and water or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Staph is easily spread from person to person and keeping hands clean is the best way to avoid passing Staph bacteria.
  2. Keep Cuts Clean and Bandaged Until Healed. Be sure to carefully clean and bandage any infections and keep them covered until they heal. You should contact a doctor quickly for serious cuts, especially if your immune system is weakened due to illness.
  3. Complete All Antibiotic Treatments. This is the most important step. Even if the antibiotics appear to clear up the infection quickly, be sure to finish the entire antibiotic course of treatment to reduce the growth of resistant strains of Staph. When bacteria survives the first days of antibiotic treatment, the offspring they produce are resistant to antibiotics making future infections that much more difficult to treat.

Staph can cause skin infections such as boils and shallow, fluid-filled blisters surrounded by yellow crusts (impetigo). It can also spread into the bones, lungs, blood and damage heart valves and other organs. Staph is passed from person to person contact and through skin contact with contaminated objects, such as towels and razors.

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics. While 25% to 30% of the population carries staph, about 1% carry MRSA. Staph infections, including MRSA, occur most frequently among persons in hospitals and healthcare facilities. They are most prevalent among people with weakened immune systems. For people who have become infected with MRSA, they will most likely be treated with advanced antibiotics, including vancomycin, teicoplanin, and mupirocin. These are given only through an intravenous drip and are only given to people in the hospital.

If you think you have an infection, be sure to seek treatment from a healthcare professional.

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