Staphylococcus (staph) are bacteria commonly found living on many skin surfaces, including in the nose and in the lining of the mouth and throat.

However, if you’re experiencing the scratchiness and irritation of a sore throat (pharyngitis), the culprit is most likely not a staph infection.

According to Mayo Clinic, the most common cause of a sore throat is a virus. Although far less common, bacteria can cause some sore throats (bacterial pharyngitis).

These bacterial infections are most likely a strep infection (group A Streptococcus) rather than a staph infection.

Keep reading to learn more about bacterial throat infections, including symptoms and how to treat and prevent them.

Symptoms of bacterial pharyngitis may include:

Depending on the type of infection, your doctor will typically prescribe an oral antibiotic to kill the bacteria.

The antibiotics your doctor may prescribe include penicillin or amoxicillin. If you’re allergic to penicillin, your doctor may prescribe:

  • cephalosporin
  • clindamycin
  • macrolide

Make an appointment with a doctor if your sore throat lasts for more than 5 to 10 days.

Seek medical attention if, above and beyond a typical sore throat, you experience the following symptoms:

Of the more than 30 strains of staph bacteria, the Cleveland Clinic points to Staphylococcus aureus as the most common human pathogen.

Colonization

Just because staph bacteria are present doesn’t mean there’s an active infection.

Most of the time, Staphylococcus doesn’t cause an infection or symptoms. When staph is present but not causing an infection, it’s referred to as being colonized with staph.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the common types of colonization:

  • Skin colonization. Penn Medicine estimates that at any given time, about 25 percent of people have staph on their skin’s surface.
  • Nose colonization. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 30 percent of people carry staph in their nose.
  • Throat colonization. A 2006 study of 356 adults concluded that more than 50 percent of participants had staph in their throat.

These bacteria typically don’t cause problems, but if the skin is broken, staph bacteria can enter the wound and cause an infection.

Potentially life threatening situations

Staph infections can be deadly if the bacteria enter your:

Staph infections are easily spread. You can help prevent them by:

  • washing your hands
  • covering wounds
  • not sharing personal items, such as towels
  • properly cleaning clothing and bedding

If possible, consider limiting your time in hospitals or inpatient healthcare facilities. You have a higher risk for exposure to staph infections in these places.

If you have a sore throat, it’s more likely due to a virus rather than bacteria. If bacteria are to blame, chances are the bacteria are strep, not staph.

Bacterial infections in your throat can cause a number of health complications. Fortunately, they’re often easily treatable with antibiotics. An infection, however, can be life threatening if the bacteria move into your bloodstream, lungs, or heart.

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of a staph infection in your throat or elsewhere, visit your doctor for a full diagnosis and recommended treatment.