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Education Library: Bacteria Skin Infections

Introduction

Bacteria are microorganisms that naturally live in our environment. There are many types of bacteria, and while some are actually beneficial to your body, others are not. Bacteria can enter through an opening in the skin, such as a scratch or cut. Bacterial infections can spread into the skin’s deepest layers and even get into your blood stream. Most bacterial infections are treated with antibiotic medications. Although not common, severe infections are monitored carefully and may require hospitalization or surgery.

Anatomy

Your skin covers your body and protects it from the environment. It is the largest organ. Your skin is composed of three layers, the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue. The epidermis is the outermost layer of your skin. It protects the inner layers. The cells at the bottom layer of the epidermis continually move upward to the outer layer. They eventually wear off and are replaced by the next layer of cells. Upon entering the skin, certain types of bacteria can spread to its deepest layers, damaging tissues, blood vessels, and nerves. Some infections can even spread into the blood (systemic infections) and lead to life threatening illness. The two most common types of bacterial infections are Staph infections (Staphylococcus aureus) and Strep infections (Streptococcus pyogenes).

Causes

Bacterial skin infections develop when bacteria enter the skin’s surface through cuts, abrasions, allergic skin rashes, or other openings in the skin. Common types of bacteria skin infections include:

  • Cellulitis & Erysipelas
    Cellulitis infections can affect both the skin and the body in general. Sites of Staph or Strep bacteria entry include bed sores (skin ulcers), skin wounds, skin cracks, burns, insect bites, surgical incisions, or other skin openings.
  • Folliculitis
    Folliculitis is a bacterial infection that develops in a hair follicle. The follicle is the part of the hair that is responsible for growth. It is located beneath the skin. Soaking in contaminated whirlpools, swimming pools, and hot tubs are common causes of folliculitis.
  • Furuncles and Carbuncles
    Furuncles and carbuncles are infections that drain via the hair follicle and can develop following folliculitis. They may appear as a deep abscess and drain pus.
  • Impetigo
    Impetigo infections most frequently occur on the arms, legs, and face of children, especially those with poor hygiene living in warm humid environments. Bacteria may enter the skin via insect bites or scrapes. Impetigo is easily spread from person to person contact and commonly occurs in places of crowded living conditions.
  • Secondarily Infected Dermatoses
    Secondarily infected dermatoses are bacterial infections that develop following other skin irritations, such as allergic skin reactions and psoriasis.

Symptoms

Bacterial skin infections cause a variety of symptoms depending on the type and degree of infection. Common skin symptoms include redness, bumps or nodules, crusting, swelling, warmth, pus, tenderness, and pain. Infections that have become systemic can cause fever, chills, and muscle pain.

Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose a bacterial infection by reviewing your medical history, examining you, and taking some tests. Samples from the affected site may be obtained to culture the bacteria to help identify what kind it is. Blood tests and antibacterial sensitivity tests may also be used to aid diagnosis and treatment planning.

Treatment

Treatment for bacterial skin infections depends on the type and severity of the infection. Antibiotics may be applied to the skin in the form of creams, lotions, or liquids. Infections that have spread throughout the body are treated with antibiotics. In cases of severe infections, surgery may be necessary.

Prevention

You can help prevent bacterial infections by practicing good hygiene and keeping skin wounds clean and dry. People that are carriers of Staphylococcus aureus may use preventative antibiotics.

Am I at Risk?

Breaks in the skin, poor hygiene, and exposure to bacteria are risk factors for bacterial skin infections.

Complications

Skin infections can leave scars. Severe skin infections may require significant surgery and even skin grafts. In some cases, systemic infections can cause mental confusion or death.

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