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I Got a Staph Infection From a Tanning Bed

When my friend invited me to go tanning one evening, I immediately told her I would join. I had only been once before, and I had had an overall positive experience. After all, who doesn’t want to have a little glow for formal pictures?  

The local tanning salon is about a 10-minute drive from my campus. It has relatively inexpensive prices, ranging from $7 to $16, with your choice of the higher- or lower-voltage bed. With my fair, Swedish skin, I chose the lighter-voltage bed, rubbed lotion all over my body and lay down in my bikini for a relaxing seven minutes. As soon as it was over, my friend and I drove back to campus, and I went back to prepping for finals week.

When I came home for winter break, I was beyond thrilled for Christmas, as well as for a ski trip up north with my family. One day after arriving home from my cousin’s house, I decided it was time for me to do some long-awaited laundry. I remember sitting in my living room, folding clothes, when I noticed a small, red bump on my left thigh. I assumed it was a pimple or an ingrown hair, and I continued to fold my clothes. I did notice it was a little white in the center, so I punctured the bump with my nail, like we all do with some pesky pimples.

I continued enjoying my break, hanging with friends and catching up on much-needed sleep. A few days after I noticed the bump, I realized it had actually gotten a bit bigger, and it had started to look a little purple. I assumed I had irritated it through the popping process, so I scolded myself and placed a Band-Aid over the imperfection when I went to the gym.

Two weeks went by, and the bump still looked the same. Naturally, I began to worry a little. I was going back to college in a week, and the last thing I wanted was a giant, red lump on my left thigh. Taking matters into my own hands, I popped the “pimple” once again, figuring I had solved the problem. However, I woke up the next day and discovered the area had swollen to the size of a quarter and was bright red. This worried me a little, but my mom wouldn’t be home until the evening, so I put a cold compress on my leg while I watched The Today Show. Throughout the day, I noticed the lump had become visible through my jeans.

My mom worked in medical sales for 18 years and is very knowledgeable in the field of medicine, so I hoped she would know exactly what was going on. After propping my leg up on the kitchen table, my mom took one look at my leg, and I immediately saw worry in her eyes.

“I think this is infected,” she said while examining my thigh. “You need to go into the doctor tomorrow morning.”

I assumed my doctor would identify the infection, put me on medicine and send me on my way. I drove to my doctor’s appointment the next day, waited in line, filled out the paperwork and sat in the room, anticipating my doctor’s arrival. He walked in and asked me what the problem was. I explained the timeline of the bump on my leg, and he examined it with gloved hands. After nodding his head, be crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair.

“Have you heard of staph before?”

My heart raced. Wait, you mean a staph infection? That sounded serious to me. I imagined people losing their legs and other various limbs. He explained that people often mistake a staph infection for a pimple or ingrown hair, like I had. Since I’d had it for two weeks, he figured staph was the culprit. He also said that it could be MRSA (or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a more serious strain of staph, which is very difficult to treat. The only way they would know is to send a piece of my skin into the lab.

Staph bacteria, or Staphylococcus, is a type of bacteria that can cause the infection of body tissues. The staph bacteria itself is normally found on the nose and skin, but it can enter a tiny cut and cause an infection. According to my doctor, I may have had a small cut on my leg from shaving and picked up the staph bacteria from the tanning bed. I was immediately put on Bactrim, an antibiotic commonly used to treat urinary tract infections.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work, and after a day, the red area around the bump had grown to have a 7-centimeter circumference and was bright red. My doctors responded by putting me on Clindamycin, a very powerful antibiotic that kills all types of good and bad bacteria throughout your body. I finally saw results in two days, but because the drug was hard on my stomach, I had severe intestinal pain for two weeks after. Eventually the pain went away, and the only part that remains is a small scar on my thigh.

What happened to me is not a rare occurrence. If the tanning salon you attend does not sanitize and disinfect its beds properly, anyone can be at risk for this infection. If someone who unknowingly has staph uses a tanning bed at a salon, the bacteria can easily be picked up by another customer, since the bacteria is very difficult to kill with basic cleaning products.

So now, I’m cautious. I only go to tanning salons that promote actively disinfecting and cleaning their beds. And when I go, I always make sure any cuts on my body are covered with a Band-Aid, and I disinfect any open wounds after a tanning session.


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Kaitlin is a sophomore at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. She is currently studying Economics with a minor in Communication. When Kaitlin isn't studying, you can find her attending events for her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, writing articles, playing tennis, or watching Bravo obsessively.  As a Bravo fangirl, she would love to meet Andy Cohen. 
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