Staphylococcus is a group of bacteria that cause a multitude of diseases. Under a microscope, Staphylococcus bacteria are round and bunched together. They can cause illness directly by infection, or indirectly through products they make, such as the toxins responsible for food poisoning and toxic shock syndrome. The best known member of the Staphylococcus family is Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus are the main culprit in hospital-acquired infections, and cause thousands of deaths every year.
Staphylococci cause abscesses, boils, and other infections of the skin, such as impetigo. They can also produce infection in any organ of the body (e.g., staphylococcal pneumonia of the lungs). The most common form of food poisoning is brought on by staphylococcus-contaminated food. The staphylococcus organisms also generate toxins and enzymes that can destroy both red and white blood cells.
Unlike some other types of bacteria, staphylococci are generally partly or wholly resistant to antibiotic action; this raises serious problems in the treatment and control of staphylococcus infections. The rise of drug-resistant virulent strains of S. aureus has led increasing concern in the medical community. Although sick patients with compromised immune systems and children are most susceptible to the strains, healthy persons have also been infected. Pharmaceutical companies are working to develop new antibiotics to kill drug-resistant strains of staphylococcus and other bacteria, and a vaccine for S. aureus has been developed.