Information for Patients
Bacteria are living things that have only one cell. Under a microscope, they look like balls, rods, or spirals. They are so small that a line of 1,000 could fit across a pencil eraser. Most bacteria won't hurt you - less than 1 percent of the different types make people sick. Many are helpful. Some bacteria help to digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, and give the body needed vitamins. Bacteria are also used in making healthy foods like yogurt and cheese.
But infectious bacteria can make you ill. They reproduce quickly in your body. Many give off chemicals called toxins, which can damage tissue and make you sick. Examples of bacteria that cause infections include Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and E. coli.
Antibiotics are the usual treatment. When you take antibiotics, follow the directions carefully. Each time you take antibiotics, you increase the chances that bacteria in your body will learn to resist them causing antibiotic resistance. Later, you could get or spread an infection that those antibiotics cannot cure.
What are skin infections?
Your skin is your body's largest organ. It has many different functions, including covering and protecting your body. It helps keep germs out. But sometimes the germs can cause a skin infection. This often happens when there is a break, cut, or wound on your skin. It can also happen when your immune system is weakened, because of another disease or a medical treatment.
Some skin infections cover a small area on the top of your skin. Other infections can go deep into your skin or spread to a larger area.
What causes skin infections?
Skin infections are caused by different kinds of germs. For example,
- Bacteria cause cellulitis, impetigo, and staphylococcal (staph) infections
- Viruses cause shingles, warts, and herpes simplex
- Fungi cause athlete's foot and yeast infections
- Parasites cause body lice, head lice, and scabies
Who is at risk for skin infections?
You are at a higher risk for a skin infection if you
- Have poor circulation
- Have diabetes
- Are older
- Have an immune system disease, such as HIV/AIDS
- Have a weakened immune system because of chemotherapy or other medicines that suppress your immune system
- Have to stay in one position for a long time, such as if you are sick and have to stay in bed for a long time or you are paralyzed
- Are malnourished
- Have excessive skinfolds, which can happen if you have obesity
What are the symptoms of skin infections?
The symptoms depend on the type of infection. Some symptoms that are common to many skin infections include rashes, swelling, redness, pain, pus, and itching.
How are skin infections diagnosed?
To diagnose a skin infection, health care providers will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. You may have lab tests, such as a skin culture. This is a test to identify what type of infection you have, using a sample from your skin. Your provider may take the sample by swabbing or scraping your skin, or removing a small piece of skin (biopsy). Sometimes providers use other tests, such as blood tests.
How are skin infections treated?
The treatment depends on the type of infection and how serious it is. Some infections will go away on their own. When you do need treatment, it may include a cream or lotion to put on the skin. Other possible treatments include medicines and a procedure to drain pus.