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Staphylococcus aureus Biological Agent Reference Sheet (BARS)

Updated November 30th, 2023
Disclaimer: Risk group, biosafety level, and all other precautions noted here are subject to change after a risk assessment by EHS.


Agent Type Risk Group Biosafety Level Animal Housing Biosafety Level
Bacteria RG-2 BSL-2 ABSL-2

Agent Characteristics 

Risk Group: RG-2 associated with human disease, rarely serious; preventive or therapeutic interventions often available.

Agent Type: Bacteria 

Description: Staphylococcus aureus are Gram-positive, catalase positive cocci belonging to the Staphylococcaceae family. They are approximately 0.5-1.5 ┬Ám in diameter, non-motile, non-spore-forming, facultative anaerobes (with the exception of S. aureus anaerobius) that usually form in clusters. Many strains produce staphylococcal enterotoxins, the superantigen toxic shock syndrome toxin (TSST-1), and exfoliative toxins. Staphylococcus aureus are part of human flora, and are primarily found in the nose and skin Antibiotic resistant strains include MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), MSSA (methicillin-susceptive (or sensitive) Staphylococcus aureus), VISA (vancomycin-intermediate Staphylococcus aureus), hVISA (heteroresistant vancomycin-intermediate Staphylococcus aureus), VRSA (vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), causing staph infection, staphylococcus infection, impetigo, toxic shock syndrome.

Host Range: Humans, wild animals, domestic animals, including cows

Host Shedding: Direct contact                       Infectious Dose: 104 organisms (human infection)

Route of Exposure to Humans: Aerosol/Inhalation, Direct contact, Mucous Membranes, Vertical Transmission, Animal Bites, Ingestion, Percutaneous

Incubation Period: Ranges from 30 minutes to 8 hours; some may take days to develop, and other individuals may carry it chronically

Health Hazards

Signs and symptoms of infection may include:

  • Cutaneous symptoms (i.e. skin lesions, rash)
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e. loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Lymphoreticular symptoms (i.e. enlarged internal organs or lymph nodes)

Immunizations: None available                           Prophylaxis*: None available

*Formal medical advice is obtained during medical consultations with Cornell Health or primary healthcare provider as needed.

Agent Viability 

Survival Outside Host Disinfection

Survives on carcasses and organs (up to 42 days), floors (less than 7 days), glass (46 hours), sunlight (17 hours), UV (7 hours), meat products (60 days), coins (up to 7 days), skin (30 minutes to 38 days) (citation needed). Depending on colony size, S. aureus can survive on fabrics from days to months

1:10 bleach Dilution

For more guidance on disinfection see:  disinfectant selection.

Laboratory Hazards 

  • High energy-creating activities (centrifugation, sonication, high pressure systems, vortexing, tube cap popping)
  • Handling of sharps (needles, scalpels, microtome blades, broken glass, etc.)
  • Splash/droplet-creating activities (shaking incubators, liquid culturing, mechanical pipetting)
  • Equipment contamination
  • Exposed skin/uncovered wounds

Laboratory Acquired Infection (LAI) History:  29 reported cases as of 1973, with 1 death.

Laboratory Handling Guidelines 

Laboratory Biosafety Level (BSL): BSL-2

Attenuated Strain Alternatives: Antibiotic susceptible strains such as Staphylococcus aureus subsp. aureus Rosenbach (ATCC 25923)


Lab Engineering Controls Personal Protective Equipment
  • Eye Protection
  • Single gloves
  • Additional gloves
  • Snap-front lab coat with cinch cuffs

Waste Management: Regulated Medical Waste (RMW)

Shipping Guidance: Refer to EHS Biological Materials Shipping 

Animal Vivarium Guidance

Animal Housing Biosafety Level (ABSL): ABSL-2

Animal Biosecurity: Experimental animals are housed separately

Perform InoculationsBiosafety Cabinet

Change CagesBiosafety Cabinet

Exposure and Spill Procedures 

Mucous Membranes: Flush eyes, mouth, or nose for 15 minutes at an eyewash station. See: responding to exposures.

Other Exposures: Wash with soap and water for 15 minutes (open wounds, sores, etc.) or a minimum of 20 seconds for areas with intact skin. See: responding to exposures.

Small Spills: Notify others working in the lab. Evacuate area and allow 30 minutes for aerosols to settle. Don appropriate PPE. Cover area of the spill with paper towels and apply disinfectant, working from the perimeter toward the center. Allow 30 minutes of contact time before disposal and cleanup of spill materials. See: spill cleanup

Large Spills: Request assistance from the EHS Spill Team by calling CUPD dispatch. Call 911 from a campus phone or 607-255-1111 from a mobile phone.

Incident Reporting: Immediately report the incident to supervisor and complete the EHS online injury/illness report as soon as possible.

Medical Follow-Up:

  • For students, seek medical attention at Cornell Health or local primary care provider. Call Cornell Health at 607-255-5155 (24-hour phone consultation line) or a local urgent care. 
  • For faculty and staff, seek medical evaluation with a local primary care provider or urgent care. Cornell Health does not see employees for post-exposure care. 
  • Emergencies: Call 911 from a campus phone or 607-255-1111 from a mobile phone. 
Cornell EHS would like to thank Emory University for the use of their Biological Agent Reference Sheet (BARS) format and some content. 

More Information


  1. Staphylococcus aureus. Pathogen Safety Data Sheet. Public Health Agency of Canada.