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Staphylococcus aureus

Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases: Staphylococcus aureus

Causal agent
Several enterotoxins of Staphylococcus aureus1.

Common clinical features
Sudden onset with severe nausea, cramps, vomiting and prostration, often accompanied by diarrhoea and hypotension1,2.

Illness commonly lasts 1-2 days.


  • Occurs worldwide.
  • Uncommon in the UK2.

Humans, occasionally cows with infected udders, dogs and fowl1.

Mode of transmission
Ingestion of food contaminated with staphylococcal enterotoxin. 

Incubation period
30 minutes - 8 hours, commonly 2-4 hours.

Period of Communicability
No person to person spread.

No specific treatment indicated. Fluid replacement when indicated.

Prevention and control

  • Keep cooked hot food above 600C if not served immediately.
  • Rapid cooling of cooked food.
  • Store cold foods below 40C
  • Follow correct food hygiene practices for food preparation and cooking in domestic and commercial kitchens as described by the WHO five keys to safer food3.
  • Prevent cross contamination of raw and cooked food by washing hands before, during and after food preparation.  Wash and sanitize all equipment, surfaces and utensils used for food preparation.
  • Separate raw and cooked food, and use separate equipment and utensils for handling raw food.
  • Cook food thoroughly (until centre of food reaches at least 70oC).
  • Reheat cooked food thoroughly, and store cooked and raw food at a safe temperature.
  • Use safe water and raw materials, e.g. pasteurized milk and water.
  • Wash fruit and vegetables.


  1. Heymann D L, editor, Control of Communicable Disease Manual. 18th ed. American Public Health Association; 2004.
  2. Hawker J, Begg N, Blair I, Reintjes R, Weinberg J. Communicable Disease Control Handbook, Blackwell, 2005.
  3. World Health Organization: 5 Keys to Safer Food. Available at:

© CM Kirwan 2006