Staphylococcus was first identified in 1880 in Aberdeen, United Kingdom, by the surgeon Sir Alexander Ogston in pus from a surgical abscess in a knee joint. This name was later appended to Staphylococcus aureus by Rosenbach who was credited by the official system of nomenclature at the time.
It is estimated that 20% of the human population are long-term carriers of S. aureus which can be found as part of the normal skin flora and in anterior nares of the nasal passages. S. aureus is the most common species of staphylococcus to cause Staph infections and is a successful pathogen due to a combination of nasal carriage and bacterial immuno-evasive strategies.
S. aureus can cause a range of illnesses, from minor skin infections, such as pimples, impetigo, boils (furuncles), cellulitis folliculitis, carbuncles, scalded skin syndrome, and abscesses, to life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, osteomyelitis, endocarditis, toxic shock syndrome (TSS), bacteremia, and sepsis. Its incidence ranges from skin, soft tissue, respiratory, bone, joint, endovascular to wound infections. It is still one of the five most common causes of nosocomial infections and is often the cause of postsurgical wound infections. Each year, some 500,000 patients in American hospitals contract a staphylococcal infection.
Role in disease
S. aureus is responsible for many infections but it may also occur as a commensal. The presence of S. aureus does not always indicate infection. S. aureus can survive from hours to weeks, or even months, on dry environmental surfaces, depending on strain.
S. aureus can infect tissues when the skin or mucosal barriers have been breached. This can lead to many different types of infections including furuncles and carbuncles (a collection of furuncles).
S. aureus infections can spread through contact with pus from an infected wound, skin-to-skin contact with an infected person by producing hyaluronidase that destroys tissues, and contact with objects such as towels, sheets, clothing, or athletic equipment used by an infected person. Deeply penetrating S. aureus infections can be severe. Prosthetic joints put a person at particular risk of septic arthritis, and staphylococcal endocarditis (infection of the heart valves) and pneumonia. Strains of S. aureus can host phages, such as Φ-PVL (produces Panton-Valentine leukocidin), that increase virulence.
S. aureus is extremely prevalent in atopic dermatitis patients. It is mostly found in fertile, active places, including the armpits, hair, and scalp. Large pimples that appear in those areas may exacerbate the infection if lacerated. This can lead to staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS). A severe form of this, Ritter's disease, can be observed in neonates.
S. aureus can survive on dogs, cats, and horses, and can cause bumblefoot in chickens. Some believe health-care workers' dogs should be considered a significant source of antibiotic-resistant S. aureus, especially in times of outbreak. S. aureus is one of the causal agents of mastitis in dairy cows. Its large polysaccharide capsule protects the organism from recognition by the cow's immune defenses.