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Health Library

A to Z: Infection, Skin

May also be called: Skin Infection, Cellulitis, Staph Infection, Bacterial Skin Infection, Viral Skin Infection

A skin infection is a condition where bacteria or other germs enter the skin through a wound and spread, causing pain, swelling, and discoloration.

More to Know

Most of the time, skin infections are caused by bacteria, such as staph (staphylococci) and strep (streptococci). In some cases, other germs — viruses, fungi, or parasites — may be involved. Many healthy people carry bacteria and other germs on their skin and in their noses and mouths without getting sick. But when skin is cut, scratched, or punctured, germs can enter the wound and cause infections, which can lead to other health problems.

Common skin infections caused by bacteria include staph infections, cellulitis, boils, carbuncles, and impetigo. Common viral skin infections include warts and herpes simplex. Athlete’s foot and ringworm are skin infections caused by fungi. Symptoms depend on the type of infection. Common symptoms of skin infections include redness, blisters, rashes, irritation, fever, and pus or fluid draining from the infected skin.

Conditions that create breaks in the skin and allow germs to enter, such as eczema and acne, can increase a person’s risk of skin infection. Other causes include chickenpox, scratched insect bites, animal bites, and puncture wounds. Treatment depends on the type of infection and often includes antibiotic pills or liquid (for bacterial infections) or creams or lotions applied directly to the skin.

Keep in Mind

Most skin infections will go away without causing any complications. In some cases, however, they can lead to more serious health problems, so a doctor should always be consulted if symptoms of an infection appear. Skin infections can often be prevented by washing wounds well with soap and water and applying an antibiotic ointment.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.