Medical Fun Facts Episode 2: Golden staph

Hello and welcome to Medical Fun Facts.

This is episode 2

Golden staph

If you read a newspaper or listen to the news on the radio or watch the news on TV you’d think golden staph was a so-called super bug.

I hate calling bacteria bugs. Bugs have legs. Bugs are eucaryotic creatures. Bacteria are bacteria, some of them can be super virulent but that does not make them super resistant to treatment.

There’s a view amongst journalists without medical training that any bacterium which is resistant to multiple antibiotics is super. I disagree. In my mind, something super would have special powers in terms of virulence. A super bacterium wouldn’t only be resistant to common antimicrobial agents it would have super penetrative capability, it would have super persistence, it would be resistant to the body’s cellular and humoral immune system.

Put simply golden staph is any run of the mill Staphylococcus aureus. It’s called staph because microscopically the cocci are arranged in grape-like clusters. It’s called golden because on horse or sheep blood agar, colonies of Staphylococcus aureus have a golden or yellow colouration.

The fact is these days most strains we see in the clinical laboratory are not golden but tend to be white. Which is a bit confusing because in the old days we’d call staphylococci that formed white colonies ‘Staph. albus’.

Golden staph prefers temperatures of about 30 °C and that’s why you’ll find it in your nostrils, arm pits and groins. Because of the coagulase enzyme, it is good at forming abscesses which can range from a zit or pimple to a large loculated carbuncle. I really like carbuncles, they are so cool to look at and even better to incise and drain. Mmm… pus!

As far as antimicrobial resistant golden staph is concerned the best known group is MRSA or methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus. MRSA can be broken down into multi or nonmulti resistant. Then there is vancomycin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, VRSA is a particularly nasty bugger.

For the majority of mild superficial skin infections causes by golden staph you do not need antimicrobials. Scrub the wound, keep it clean and dress it properly.

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