Lyme disease: Symptoms, transmission, and treatment

What to know about Lyme disease

Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is a potentially life-threatening condition that is transmitted to humans by blacklegged ticks.

The tick infects the person with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi).

At first, a rash may appear. This can disappear without treatment, but in time, the person may develop problems with the joints, the heart, and the nervous system.

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infectious disease in the United States (U.S.). The ticks pick up the bacteria when they bite mice or deer that are carrying it.

It was first reported in 1977 in a town called Old Lyme, CT.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) registered 25,435 confirmed cases of Lyme disease and 9,616 probable cases in 2015, an incidence of 8.9 cases in every 100,000 people.

The highest number was in Pennsylvania, with 7,351 confirmed cases. New England, the mid-Atlantic States, and the upper Midwest are most prone to ticks that can spread Lyme disease.

Fast facts on Lyme disease

Here are some key points about Lyme disease. More detail is in the main article.

  • Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the U.S.
  • The disease can only be passed on through the bites of certain kinds of tick.
  • A common symptom of Lyme disease is an erythema migrans rash.
  • Without effective treatment, symptoms disappear, but more severe symptoms can emerge weeks, months, or years later.

Share on Pinterest An erythema migrans (EM) rash should be reported to a doctor, as it may indicate Lyme disease.

Initial signs and symptoms of Lyme disease are usually very mild.

Some people may not notice any symptoms, or they may think they have flu.

After the initial phase, further symptoms develop.

Symptoms can disappear, but the disease can affect the body in other ways, years later.

Stage 1: Early Lyme disease

Erythema migrans (EM) is a rash that often appears in the early stage of Lyme disease, from 3 to 30 days after infection, or 7 days on average.

EM affects 70 to 80 percent of people who are infected.

  • typically begins as a small red area that expands over several days, to reach a diameter of 12 inches or 30 centimeters
  • may lose its color in the center, giving a bull’s-eye appearance
  • usually starts at the site of the tick bite but can appear elsewhere as the bacteria spread
  • is not painful or itchy but may feel warm to the touch

The rash may be less evident on darker skin.

Stage 2: Early disseminated Lyme disease

The rash will disappear after about 4 weeks, even without treatment, but other symptoms can emerge days to months after being bitten.

  • meningitis, or inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, leading to headaches and a stiff neck
  • additional rashes
  • fever and chills
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • fatigue
  • pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones, especially in the large joints
  • heart palpitations or irregular heart beat
  • facial palsy, or loss of muscle tone in one or both sides of the face
  • dizziness and shortness of breath
  • nerve pain and shooting pains, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

These symptoms may go away without treatment within a few weeks or months, but, in time, the person may experience further complications.

Anyone who may have Lyme disease should get medical help immediately. Early treatment is more effective.

Stage 3: Late disseminated Lyme disease

Also known as late Lyme disease, this may be the first sign of illness in some people.

Symptoms can emerge weeks, months, and even years after initial infection if a patient has not received treatment, or if antibiotic treatment has not been fully effective.

In some patients, this may be the first sign of illness.

It can involve problems with the nervous system and the heart.

The person may have:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • sleep and vision problems
  • memory loss
  • numbness, pain and tingling
  • irregular heart beat
  • joint pain
  • paralysis of the face muscles

Around 60 percent of untreated patients will experience recurrent bouts of arthritis with severe joint swelling, especially in the large joints.

Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome

Even after treatment, a few people may experience post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, sometimes referred to as chronic Lyme disease.

This involves nonspecific symptoms, such as fatigue and joint pain, that can persist for months after treatment.

Antibiotics are unlikely to help, so treatment aims to relieve symptoms, for example through rest and anti-inflammatory medications.

The symptoms should resolve in time.

In the U.S, B. burgdorferi, the Lyme disease-causing bacterium, enters humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, either Ixodes scapularis or Ixodes pacificus.

The adult tick or the young nymph bores a tiny hole in the skin and inserts its mouthparts into the opening, attaching itself to the host.

Ticks tend to attach to hard-to-see areas of the human body, such as the scalp, armpits, and groin.

Generally, the tick must remain attached for at least 36 to 48 hours before transmitting the bacterium into a human.

As a result, the risk of getting Lyme disease from a tick, even where ticks are prevalent, is between 1.2 and 1.4 percent.

Most people get rid of the larger adults before they have time to transmit the bacterium, so human infections tend to occur as a result of bites from barely visible nymphs.

Is person-to-person transmission possible?

Lyme disease spread cannot spread between humans, for example by touching, kissing, or sexual contact.

Dogs and cats can get Lyme disease, but they cannot infect humans. There have been no documented cases of anyone contracting Lyme disease by eating venison.

Lyme disease cannot be passed on through the air, food, or water.

Lice, mosquitoes, fleas, or flies do not transmit it.

Pregnancy and breast-feeding

Some small studies have linked Lyme disease in pregnancy to birth defects or fetal death, but there has not been enough research to conclude that Lyme disease negatively affects pregnancy.

There are no reports of transmission through breast-feeding.

A woman who needs treatment for Lyme disease during pregnancy will receive a different kind of antibiotic treatment than usual.

Ideally, treatment should occur as soon as the EM rash appears.

If a person has been in an area where Lyme disease is common, and they have symptoms, treatment can start even without a blood test.

This is because the antibodies to the bacteria take from 2 to 6 weeks to show up in blood tests, so a blood test done within a month of infection may give a false result.

People should tell their doctor at once if they:

  • live in a high-risk area
  • have symptoms that could indicate Lyme disease
  • have recently been exposed to ticks

If early-stage Lyme disease is not treated, there is a serious risk of more severe symptoms later on, even years later.

Patients with swollen joints or neurological symptoms may be advised to have a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to check for bacterial DNA. Fluid is drawn from either the infected joint or the spine, in a spinal tap.

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During the early stages of Lyme disease, treatment with antibiotic medication generally results in a rapid and complete recovery.

In the later stages, especially if the person has arthritis and neurological conditions, intravenous antibiotics, or antibiotic injections, will be necessary.

Even after treatment is over, patients may still test positive for anti-B. burgdorferi antibodies, but this does not necessarily mean they still have Lyme disease.

The incidence of Lyme disease appears to be on the rise in the U.S.

The National Science Foundation suggest this could be due to forest fragmentation, as smaller fragments of forest seem to harbor more ticks.

Small patches of woodland are common in cities and suburban and rural areas. They are a popular habitat for white-footed mice, because there are fewer predators.

White-footed mice are the main carriers of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. When blacklegged ticks feed on the mice, they can pass on the bacteria.

The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid tick bites.

  • be alert for symptoms
  • be aware of the risk, especially if living in or visiting New England, the upper Midwest or the mid-Atlantic states
  • use repellant on the skin, clothing, and hiking or camping gear
  • treat pets with anti-tick treatment
  • check your body, gear, clothes, and pets for ticks after spending time outdoors
  • shower after coming in from outside
  • dry clothes at a high temperature to kill ticks
  • ask pest control for advice about protecting your yard
  • discourage deer by fencing your yard
  • remove ticks quickly and correctly, and take a photo in case you need to show a doctor

When checking the body, the CDC suggest looking for ticks in the following places:

  • under the arms and behind the knees
  • in and around the ears
  • in the belly button
  • in head and body hair
  • between the legs
  • around the waist

If a tick is attached to the skin for less than 24 hours, it is unlikely to transmit Lyme disease.

Lyme Disease: Important Facts to Know

In this Article

In this Article

In this Article

Editor’s note: This article was updated on August 6, 2018.

The black-legged tick is on the move.

Cases of Lyme disease — traditionally more prevalent in the NortheastВ — have now been found in all 50 states and the District of Columbia,В a new study from Quest Diagnostics found. While the Northeast still reported the highest number of cases, California and Florida had theВ highest percentage increase in positive test results from 2015В to 2017.

Experts say the tick has been expanding its range into the southern and western U.S. and into Canada, making it likely that the number of Lyme disease cases in North America will climb. A recent CDC study found that cases of Lyme increased more than 80% between 2004 and 2016 — from 19,804 to 36,429.

Those are the reported cases. The CDC estimates there are more than 300,000 cases of Lyme infection in the U.S. each year — or 10 times as many as what is reported.

“There’s obviously year-to-year bouncing around, but the trend line is upward,” says John Aucott, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Clinical Research Center in Baltimore. “It won’t stop in the foreseeable future.”

Most cases are clustered in 14 states in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, but Lyme has been reported as far south as Mexico, and increasingly, in Canada.

The black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), also known as the deer tick, carries the bacteria that causes Lyme infection. The same tick also can spread other diseases, including babesiosis, anaplasmosis, and Powassan virus — other diseases on the rise in the U.S.

Here’s more about the disease and what to expect this year and beyond.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi that are transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected black-legged or deer tick. Symptoms can occur anywhere from 3 to 30 days after the bite and can be wide-ranging, depending on the stage of the infection. In some cases, symptoms can appear months after the bite.

The chances you might get Lyme disease from a tick bite depend on the kind of tick, where you were when the bite occurred, and how long the tick was attached to you, the CDC says. Black-legged ticks must be attached to you for 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease. If you remove the tick or ticks within 48 hours, you aren’t likely to get infected, says Cleveland Clinic infectious disease specialist Alan Taege, MD.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Early signs and symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes — all common in the flu. In up to 80% of Lyme infections, a rash is one of the first symptoms, Aucott says.

Without treatment, symptoms can progress. They might include:

  • Severe headache or neck stiffness
  • Rashes on other areas of the body
  • Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly in the knees
  • Loss of muscle tone or “drooping” on one or both sides of the face.
  • Heart palpitation or an irregular heartbeat
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet

What does the rash look like?

About 20% to 30% of Lyme rashes have a “bull’s-eye” appearance — concentric circles around a center point — but most are round and uniformly red and at least 5 centimeters (about 2 inches) across, Aucott says.

“Most are just red,” he says. “They do not have the classic ring within a ring like the Target logo.”

The rash expands gradually over a period of days and can grow to about 12 inches across, the CDC says. It may feel warm to the touch, but it rarely itches or is painful, and it can appear on any part of the body.

How small are ticks?

Ticks can be the size of a poppy seed. Can you spot all 5 ticks in this photo? Learn how to prevent tick bites.

TIcks come in three sizes, depending on their stage of life. Larvae are the size of grains of sand,В nymphs the size of poppy seeds, and adults the size of an apple seed.В

How is Lyme disease diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose it based on symptoms and a history of tick exposure. Two-step blood tests are helpful if used correctly. But the accuracy of the test depends on when you got infected. In the first few weeks of infection, the test may be negative, as antibodies take a few weeks to develop. Tests aren’t recommended for patients who don’t have Lyme disease symptoms.

Aucott says the most promising development in the fight against Lyme disease are better diagnostic tests that are accurate in the first few weeks after exposure. The earlier the treatment, the less likely the disease will progress. Aucott says he expects the tests to be available soon.

Doctors may not recognize symptoms, especially those who practice in areas where Lyme infection isn’t prevalent, and up to 30% of the infections are not accompanied by a rash.

What are the stages of Lyme infection?

There are three stages:

  • Early localized Lyme: Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, and typically a rash that has a “bull’s-eye” appearance or is uniformly round and red and at least 5 centimeters in size
  • Early disseminated Lyme: Flu-like symptoms that now include pain, weakness, or numbness in the arms and legs, vision changes, heart palpitations and chest pain, a rash, and facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy)
  • Late disseminated Lyme: This can occur weeks, months, or years after the tick bite. Symptoms might include arthritis, severe fatigue and headaches, vertigo, sleep disturbances, and mental confusion.

While experts don’t understand it, roughly 10% of people treated for Lyme infection do not shake the disease. They may go on to have three core symptoms — joint or muscle pain, fatigue, and short-term memory loss or mental confusion This is called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. It’s considered controversial because its symptoms are shared with other diseases and there isn’t a blood test to diagnose it, Aucott says.

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There are theories as to why Lyme symptoms become chronic. One is that the body continues fighting the infection long after the bacteria are gone, much like an autoimmune disorder.

How is Lyme disease treated?

Antibiotics are used to treat early stage Lyme infection. Patients typically take doxycycline for 10 days to 3 weeks, or amoxicillin and cefuroxime for 2 to 3 weeks. In

up to 90% of cases, the antibiotic cures the infection. If it doesn’t, patients might get other antibiotics either by mouth or intravenously.

For early disseminated Lyme disease, which may happen when a Lyme infection goes untreated, oral antibiotics are recommended for symptoms such as facial palsy and abnormal heart rhythm. Intravenous antibiotics are recommended if a person has meningitis, inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, or more severe heart problems.

In late-stage Lyme, a patient may receive oral or intravenous antibiotics. Patients with lingering arthritis would receive standard arthritis treatment.

There is no treatment for post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.

“Ten percent of people don’t get better after antibiotics,” Aucott says. “We think it’s very significant if 30,000 people a year don’t get better.”

What areas are more likely to have it?

Mainly New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, and part of the Upper Midwest. The CDC says 95% of confirmed cases in 2016 were in 14 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. From 2006 to 2016, case numbers have increased in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan as the tick’s range expands westward.

In 2016, the highest number of confirmed Lyme infection cases — 9,000 — was reported in Pennsylvania, followed by New Jersey, with more than 3,300 cases.

In the Southern U.S., which is more prone to hot weather, ticks tend to stay under leaf litter and don’t come up higher to feed much, Aucott says — “ticks don’t like to dry out.” This means Southern ticks don’t transmit Lyme as frequently because they don’t tend to feed on humans.

Who is likeliest to get Lyme disease?

Infection is more common in males up to age 15 and between the ages of 40 and 60, says Taege. “These are people who are more likely to play outside, and go camping, hunting, and hiking,” he says.

Aucott adds that Lyme infection drops off in older teens and those in their 20s “because they’re inside on their computers.” Older adults, he says, tend to have more time to work in their backyards, which is where most Lyme infection is transmitted.

What’s driving tick expansion?

Scientists point to a variety of causes for the spread of Lyme infection. Among them are reforestation, especially in the Northeast U.S., where Lyme disease is more prevalent; climate change and temperature extremes; suburbanization; and more exposure to the white-tailed deer, which is the black-legged tick’s favorite mode of travel.

Development led to record low numbers of deer early in the last century, says CDC epidemiologist Paul Mead, MD. But the deer population has rebounded as reforestation took place over several decades, meaning the tick population has risen and expanded as well.

“Ticks have a pretty long life cycle, lasting 2-3 years, and typically don’t move very far within their lifetime, so it takes a while to see large changes,” he says.

Deer and white-footed mice, which transmit Lyme disease to ticks that bite them, are moving closer to humans as their habitats disappear, says Taege. Ticks don’t mind dogs, either, which carry them into homes and spread them to their humans.

Another reason: Warmer weather and mild winters may bring more people outside, raising their chances of being bitten, particularly in Lyme-prone areas, Taege says.

“Whether you believe in global warming or not, we have longer, warmer summer months, and people are outdoors more,” says Taege. “We’ve seen an expansion [of ticks] in areas in which the vectors live, and we’ve slowly seen more Lyme disease.”

That doesn’t mean you should be afraid of outdoor activities, as long as you take precautions to avoid tick bites, Aucott says.

What’s the best way to prevent a tick bite?

Ticks can’t fly or jump, but instead live in shrubs and bushes, and grab onto someone when they pass by. To avoid getting bitten:

  • Wear pants and socks in the woods, areas with lots of trees, and while handling fallen leaves
  • Wear a tick repellent on your skin and clothing that has DEET, lemon oil, or eucalyptus.
  • For even more protection, use the chemical permethrin on clothing and camping gear.
  • Shower within 2 hours after coming inside, if possible.
  • Look at your skin and wash ticks out of your hair.
  • Put your clothing and any exposed gear into a hot dryer to kill whatever pests might remain.

How do you know if you’ve been bitten?

Given that the ticks are the size of a poppy seed, you’ve got to have pretty good eyes. The CDC recommends that if you’ve been walking in the woods, in tall grass, or working in the garden, check your skin afterward, ideally in the shower or bath. That way, you’ve removed your clothes, which may carry ticks, too.

What do you do if there’s a tick under your skin?

Remove it with a pair of fine-tipped tweezers as soon as possible, pulling upward with steady pressure. If parts of the tick remain in the skin, also try to remove them with the tweezers. After everything is out, clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

Mead says you’re not likely to get infected if you remove the tick within 36 to 48 hours.

Some people have an allergic reaction to ticks, so they’ll notice a bite right away.

How do you dispose of a tick?

Place it in soapy water or alcohol, stick it to a piece of tape, or flush it down the toilet.

When should you see a doctor if you suspect you have Lyme?

The rash is a pretty good indication that you may have been bitten. Take a photo of the rash and see your doctor, Aucott says. At this stage of the illness, treatment with antibiotics will probably be successful.

If you don’t have the telltale rash but have a summer flu — fatigue, fever, headache but no respiratory symptoms like a cough — you may want to talk to your doctor, Aucott says.

Is there any progress on a vaccine for Lyme disease?

The FDA in July 2017 gave «fast-track» approval to French biotech company Valneva to test potential Lyme disease vaccine VLA15 on adults in the U.S. and Europe. Data from the first phase are expected to be released soon, and then the second phase will begin.

What if a tick bites my dog?

The more ticks in your region, the likelier it is that your furry pal will bring them home. Mead says.

Dogs are much more likely than humans to be bitten by ticks, and where Lyme disease is more prevalent, up to 25% of dogs have evidence of past infection, he says.

“On the flip side, low rates of exposure in dogs is a good indicator that Lyme is not a problem in the area.”

And they can get sick. About 10% of dogs with Lyme disease will become ill. Common symptoms, which may show up 7-21 days after a tick bite, are lameness — your dog will appear to be walking on eggshells — a fever, lethargy, and enlarged lymph nodes. Dogs also get antibiotics for treatment.

What if my dog brings ticks into the home?

Practice prevention habits and use a tick control product on your pet.A Lyme vaccine is also available for dogs.


John Aucott, MD, assistant professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; director, Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Clinical Research Center.

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: “Vital Signs: Trends in Reported Vectorborne Disease Cases — United States and Territories, 2004-2016.”

Alan Taege, MD, department of infectious disease, Cleveland Clinic.

EPA: “Climate Change Indicators in the United States.”

American College of Rheumatology.

Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Eisen, R. J Med Entomol, March 2016.

PaulВ Mead, MD, chief of epidemiology and surveillance activity, Bacterial Diseases Branch, CDC.

MSPCA-Angell: “Lyme Disease in Dogs.”

VCA Hospitals: “Lyme Disease in Dogs.”

See also:  CDC - Scabies

UpToDate: “Lyme Disease Treatment.”

Global Lyme Alliance.

Entomology Today, Sept. 28, 2017.

U.S. Global Change Research Program: “Climate and Health Assessment.”

Government of Canada: “Surveillance of Lyme disease.”

American Lyme Disease Foundation.

TickEncounter Resource Center: «Top 10 Things Everyone Should Know About Ticks These Days.»

Quest Diagnostics: «Lyme Disease Health Trends.»

6 Signs of a Staph Infection You Should Never Ignore, According to Doctors

When left untreated, staph infection symptoms can become life-threatening.

This article was medically reviewed by Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and member of the Prevention Medical Review Board on September 11, 2019.

Get a whiff of this: There’s about a 30 percent chance that staph bacteria are living inside your nose right at this moment.

That’s not necessarily something to fret over, though. Staphylococcus is a group of bacteria and there are more than 30 different types, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. They are known as “commensal” microorganisms because they’re friendly enough to live on our bodies without causing any problems, says Paul Fey, PhD, medical director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s department of pathology and microbiology. “You can find staph in your nose, on your skin, and sometimes in other mucous membranes like your anus,” he explains.

But while staph bacteria are courteous houseguests when confined to their normal quarters, they can cause infections and illness (most commonly caused by Staphylococcus aureus) if they gain access to areas of your body where they don’t belong. There are different types of staph infections, Dr. Fey says, and they show up in different ways.

“Staph infections most commonly develop when there is a break in the skin, giving the staph an entry point for infection,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “This may occur after regular cuts and scrapes, nicks from shaving, or even open skin because of athlete’s foot.”

In addition to minor local infections, staph can also cause a serious immune system reaction to an infection known as sepsis, says Gary Goldenberg, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital. “People can die from a staph infection if it gets into the bloodstream or infects internal organs,” he says.

Not sure what to watch for? Here are the telltale signs of a staph infection you should know how to recognize.

1. Skin boils or pustules

Pus-filled or inflamed skin blemishes are by far the most common type of staph infection, Dr. Fey says.

“Let’s say you have a mosquito bite on your arm, and you have staph on your finger because you’ve been scratching or touching your nose,” he says. If you scratch your bug bite or some other place where your skin is broken, the staph bacteria on your finger can infect that wound and cause a big, red, painful, pus-filled blemish to form. You could also develop a rash-like cluster of raised blisters called impetigo, he says.

“It’s fairly common in the ER for people to come in thinking they have a large spider bite, when really they have a staph infection,” Dr. Fey says.

2. Skin infections

Staph is actually the most common cause of cellulitis, a common and potentially serious bacterial skin infection, Dr. Goldenberg says. “It can occur in completely healthy people or in those with weak immune systems,” he says.

Staph usually enters the skin through a cut or eczema patch and causes a local infection, leading to skin inflammation, Dr. Goldenberg explains. This can present as a warm, red, swollen area of skin that is tender or painful to the touch, most commonly on the lower legs, face, or arms.

While it may seem like no big deal, any skin condition that feels unusually painful or irritated should be evaluated by your doctor ASAP, as cellulitis can progress rapidly. “Deep infections like boils or infections of the legs should get immediate attention,” says Dr. Zeichner.

3. Food poisoning

When a food is exposed to staph, the bacteria multiply and produce toxins. It’s those toxins that can make you sick, and they can lead to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain, typically within 30 minutes to 8 hours after ingesting the contaminated food, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, it’s important to note that a fever is not typically something you’d experience from staph-related food poisoning, Dr. Fey says.

The best ways to avoid staph-related food poisoning is to make sure your food is handled at the right temperature, the CDC says. Hot foods should be kept at 140°F or hotter and cold foods at 40°F or colder. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt to wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap before cooking or eating.

4. Fever and low blood pressure

In some cases—usually when someone’s exposed to staph in a hospital setting, like during surgery—staph bacteria can get into your bloodstream, Dr. Fey says.

This can cause a blood infection known as bacteremia, which can initially lead to a fever and low blood pressure. Once in your blood, this kind of staph infection can spread to your heart, bones, and other organs—and result in a number of serious or even deadly infections. Those include pneumonia, and also a type of bone infection called osteomyelitis, which could lead to swelling or warmth in the infected area, according to resources from the Mayo Clinic.

Bacteremia could also lead to an infection of the lining of your heart known as endocarditis. Symptoms—like fever, chills, night sweats, joint pain, pale skin, and weakness—can develop very slowly, suddenly, or even come and go, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

5. Toxic shock syndrome

When the toxins staph produces accumulate, they can cause a particular type of blood poisoning known as toxic shock syndrome (TSS). This could lead to a sudden fever, vomiting or diarrhea, muscles aches, headaches, and a rash resembling sunburn on your palms and the soles of your feet, research shows.

TSS is rare, though. The condition affects fewer than one in 100,000 people in the U.S., according to data from the CDC.

6. Sepsis

If a staph skin infection is left untreated, it can eventually enter the bloodstream and lead to sepsis, Dr. Goldenberg says, which is an intense immune system reaction to an infection that sends harmful inflammatory chemicals into the blood and other internal organs. This can block proper blood flow and potentially cause your organs to shut down, which can be fatal. Someone with sepsis might have one or more of the following symptoms, according to the CDC:

  • A high heart rate
  • Fever, shivering, or feeling very cold
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Clammy or sweaty skin

When to see your doctor about a staph infection

You’ve probably heard of MRSA—pronounced “mer-sa”—which stands for “methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus,” Dr. Fey explains. As the name states, this is a type of staph that has developed resistance to certain antibiotic drugs, including a commonly used type called methicillin.

In most cases, MRSA infections manifest just the same as other types of staph infections—meaning they show up as skin boils or pustules, he says. But MRSA can also lead to some of the more serious skin and blood infections mentioned above. In those cases, MRSA’s drug resistance may make it tougher to treat.

“Staph infections need to be treated immediately.”

That’s why “staph infections need to be treated immediately,” Dr. Goldenberg says, which could range anywhere from topical or oral antibiotics for superficial skin infections to IV antibiotics for more serious infections.

While anyone can develop a staph infection, those with weakened immune systems and diabetes are at a higher risk, Dr. Goldenberg says. People with eczema also tend to get more superficial staph infections, he says.

How to prevent a staph infection

Washing your hands thoroughly and often—especially when you’ll be handling food or touching a wound or broken skin—is the best way to prevent a staph infection, Dr. Fey says.

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