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Microbiology Of Staphylococcus Aureus

Uncover the fascinating world of Staphylococcus Aureus and its impact on human health in this eye-opening exploration of microbiology.

USMLE Guide: Microbiology of Staphylococcus Aureus


Staphylococcus aureus is a gram-positive bacterium commonly found on the skin and mucous membranes of humans. It is a significant pathogen known to cause a wide range of infections, from minor skin and soft tissue infections to severe systemic diseases. Understanding the microbiology of staphylococcus aureus is crucial for medical professionals preparing for the USMLE exam. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of the key aspects of Staphylococcus aureus microbiology.

General Characteristics

  • Gram Stain: Staphylococcus aureus is a gram-positive bacterium, meaning it retains the crystal violet stain during Gram staining.
  • Shape: It is a spherical or cocci-shaped bacterium, typically appearing in grape-like clusters.
  • Catalase Test: Staphylococcus aureus is catalase-positive, producing bubbles when hydrogen peroxide is applied.
  • Coagulase Test: It is coagulase-positive, forming a clot when mixed with rabbit plasma.

Virulence Factors

  • Protein A: Staphylococcus aureus possesses protein A, which binds to the Fc portion of immunoglobulins, inhibiting opsonization and phagocytosis.
  • Peptidoglycan: The bacterium's peptidoglycan layer contains pentaglycine cross-bridges, providing resistance to lysostaphin and beta-lactam antibiotics.
  • Capsule: Some strains of Staphylococcus aureus produce a capsule that aids in evading the host immune response.
  • Exotoxins: Staphylococcus aureus produces various exotoxins, including enterotoxins causing food poisoning and toxic shock syndrome toxin-1 (TSST-1).
  • Enzymes: It produces enzymes, such as coagulase, hemolysins, and hyaluronidase, which contribute to tissue invasion and destruction.

Clinical Manifestations

  • Skin and Soft Tissue Infections: Staphylococcus aureus commonly causes impetigo, cellulitis, abscesses, folliculitis, and furuncles.
  • Toxic Shock Syndrome: Certain strains of Staphylococcus aureus produce TSST-1, leading to toxic shock syndrome characterized by fever, rash, hypotension, and multi-organ involvement.
  • Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome: Exfoliative toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus cause a diffuse, erythematous rash with subsequent desquamation.
  • Endocarditis: Staphylococcus aureus is a common cause of acute bacterial endocarditis, particularly affecting individuals with pre-existing heart valve abnormalities or intravenous drug users.
  • Pneumonia: Staphylococcus aureus can cause both community-acquired and hospital-acquired pneumonia, often resulting in necrotizing pneumonia.
  • Osteomyelitis: This bacterium is a frequent cause of hematogenous osteomyelitis, particularly in children.
  • Toxin-Mediated Syndromes: Consumption of Staphylococcus aureus-contaminated food can lead to food poisoning characterized by rapid-onset vomiting and diarrhea.


  • Gram Stain: A gram stain of clinical specimens may reveal gram-positive cocci in clusters, suggesting the presence of Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Culture: Culturing the organism on blood agar plates, such as sheep blood agar, can confirm the diagnosis.
  • Coagulase Test: Performing the coagulase test can differentiate Staphylococcus aureus (coagulase-positive) from other coagulase-negative staphylococci.
  • Molecular Techniques: Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays can detect specific genes associated with Staphylococcus aureus, such as mecA gene for methicillin-resistant strains.

Treatment and Prevention

  • Antibiotics: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a significant concern, requiring alternative antibiotics like vancomycin, linezolid, or daptomycin. Methicillin-sensitive strains can be treated with beta-lactam antibiotics.
  • Infection Control: Strict adherence to infection control practices, including proper hand hygiene, isolation precautions, and decolonization protocols, is crucial to prevent the spread of Staphylococcus aureus infections.
  • Vaccination: There is currently no licensed vaccine available for Staphylococcus aureus. Research efforts are ongoing to develop effective vaccines against this pathogen.

Remember, a thorough understanding of the microbiology of Staphylococcus aureus is essential for the US

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