As we saw when we discussed MRSA, Staphylococcus (Sp. estafilococo) is a genus of bacteria that colonize the skin, mucous membranes, and upper respiratory tracts of mammals and birds including, of course, humans. Most of the 40 species of this genus are harmless, but a few of them cause infections and some strands of those species have developed ways to counteract the body’s defense mechanisms and the antibiotics medicine has created to deal with them.
Staphylococcus aureus (Sp. estafilococo dorado), which we discussed in the section on MRSA, is the most dangerous of all the Staphylococcus species, responsible for most Staphylococcus infections, also known as staph infections, such as skin infections, pneumonia, food poisoning, toxic shock syndrome, and blood poisoning (bacteremia). Many healthy adults carry this bacterium in their biomes without adverse effects, however: 20% of us have it in in the skin and 30% in the nose. However, in certain contexts and under a weakened immune system, this bacteria is responsible for many different types of infections around the body, including localized skin infections, such as ear infections; diffuse skin infection, such as cellulitis; deep, localized infections, such as septic arthritis, and so on.
In addition, Staphylococcus aureus excretes substances that are toxic to the body, that is, toxins (Sp. toxinas). The New Latin noun toxin [ˈtɒk.sɪn] (Sp. toxina [t̪ok.ˈsi.na]) was created in 1886 from the stem tox‑ of the adjective toxic and the Latinate suffix ‑in. The adjective toxic (Sp. tóxico/a) comes from an actual Latin word, Late Latin toxĭcus ‘poisoned’, derived from the Latin noun toxĭcum ‘poison’, a loanword from Greek τοξικόν (toxikón) ‘poison for arrows’, from τοξικός (toxikós) ‘pertaining to bows’, from τόξον (tóxon) ‘bow’.
The main toxin produced by the S. aureus bacterium is known as Staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) or enterotoxin type B (Sp. enterotoxina estafilocócica B). This is the main toxin associated with food poisoning in humans. An enterotoxin is ‘a toxin produced in or affecting the intestines’ (COED). The word enterotoxin is New Latin word created in the 1930’s from Ancient Greek ἔντερον (énteron) ‘intestine’ and the word toxin. Food poisoning by SEB is known as Staphylococcal Food Poisoning or Staph Food Poisoning for short (Sp. intoxicación alimentaria por estafilococo dorado).
If one ingests a toxin such as SEB, that is, if one ingests food contaminated with it, it results in food poisoning, a form of gastrointestinal illness. The toxins can come from the skin, coughing, or sneezing of food handlers. The bacteria rapidly can grows rapidly at room temperature and excrete enterotoxins, especially in certain food products, such as cream, mayonnaise, meats, and dairy, which may not be easily detectable by smell or spoiled appearance, for instance. Staph bacteria are easily killed by cooking, but not so the toxins that they produce.