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Bacterial Skin Infections

Bacteria are everywhere, including on your skin.1a Usually, they do not cause any problems.1a,2a
However, if you have a cut, scrape, or wound that becomes red, sore and will not heal, you may have a bacterial infection. 2b,c,3a

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What is a bacterial skin infection?

Bacteria are microscopic organisms that live, thrive, and colonise on and inside your body. In fact, the body contains far more bacterial cells than human ones.1b,c
Most bacteria are harmless, vital even, playing an important role in digestion and fighting
infection.1a For example, beneficial gut bacteria help with digestion and immunity, making your body more resistant to disease, deriving as much benefit from you in return.1d-f

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How your skin becomes infected?

Staph (short for ‘Staphylococcus auerus’) bacteria are the most common cause of skin
infections. A variety of factors, including your immune status and the types of contact sport you play, can increase your risk of developing staph infections.10h

Most bacteria are harmless, vital even, playing an important role in fighting infection and keeping us healthy.2 For example, beneficial gut bacteria help with digestion and immunity, making your body more resistant to disease, deriving as much benefit from you in return. However, when harmful bacteria become too colonised, a bacterial infection can occur.

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How your skin becomes infected?

Commonly found on the skin, even in healthy people, Staphylococcus aureus or S.aureus is the most common bacteria involved in infections of the skin and wounds.3e 

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Types, signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bacterial skin infections vary widely, depending on the location and severity of the infection 10g

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Types, signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of S.aureus skin infections vary from mild and unpleasant to severe and painful.

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  • Mainly affects infants and children4a
  • Frequently occurs on the nose and mouth but also the hands and feet4b
  • Classic signs include red sores that ooze and rupture and then form a yellowish-brown crust.4c,e
  • Highly contagious, it can spread to other parts of the body and to other children
    through contact with the infected area4d,e
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Furuncle (boil)

  • Affects people of all ages5a
  • Commonly found on the face, neck, armpits, buttocks and thighs but can appear anywhere on the body5b
  • Symptoms include a swollen, red lump in the skin (sometimes, a hair will grow in
    it), painful to touch and filled with liquid or pus that may ooze out of a central ‘head’5c
  • The boil itself is not contagious but the pus inside it is, particularly if it is oozing5c,d 
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  • Occurs anywhere on the skin where there is hair, frequently affecting adult men6a,7a
  • Commonly found on the neck, in the beard area, breasts, buttocks, back and
  • Hair follicle(s) become inflamed and infected and manifests as a tender pustule.6a,b,7a,b
  • While not usually contagious, prevent the spread of bacteria by not sharing razors and other personal items such as towels and washcloths.8d,e
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Infected wounds

  • Any wound contaminated with dirt or bacteria can get infected, especially deeper
    scrapes which tend to grind dirt into the skin, and puncture wounds8a.
  • Wound pain that worsens a day or more after the injury often indicates the first sign of infection, and the wound may become red and swollen, ooze pus, and a fever may develop.8b  While the wound itself is not contagious, to reduce the spread of bacteria to others, keep any cuts clean and covered.8d,f
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How is a bacterial skin infection diagnosed?

To diagnose a bacterial skin infection, your doctor will perform a physical exam and closely examine any skin lesions you have.9a
A sample for testing may be necessary to check for signs of bacteria.9a

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How is it treated?

Treatment usually involves antibiotics and drainage of the infected area.10a Topical antibiotics can play an important role in the prevention and treatment of many bacterial skin infections.3b
Topical antibiotic creams and ointments, such as fusidic acid or mupirocin can be prescribed or recommended over-the-counter for bacterial skin infections such as impetigo, infected cuts and grazes, and infected dermatitis. Topical antibiotics
work by stopping the growth of the bacteria causing the infection. These topical creams can also be used to prevent wound infections from occurring.3c Sodium fusidate (available as an ointment) is a salt of fusidic acid and it works in the same way.11a Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to recommend the appropriate product to treat your infection.
In most cases, a bacterial skin infection does not cause serious harm. However, if left untreated, and the infection continues to penetrate even deeper it could enter the bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart, and become dangerous.10a

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Reducing your risk of getting or spreading a bacterial skin infection

The primary way to reduce your risk of getting or spreading a bacterial skin infection is by following good personal hygiene habits, and keeping your skin undamaged.14 Precautions to lower your risk of developing bacterial skin infections include;
washing hands thoroughly, keeping wounds covered, not sharing personal items and taking care when handling food.10b-f

Please note: This is educational information only and should not be used for diagnosis. For more information on baterial skin infections, consult your health care profressional.

Medical References

⦁ National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). How Infection Works. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209710/. Accessed 15 July 2019.
⦁ Stanford Children’s Health. Bacterial Skin Infections in Children. Available at: https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=bacterial-skin-infections-in-children-90-P01886. Accessed 15 July 2019.
⦁ Leyden JJ. The Role of Topical Antibiotics in Dermatologic Practice. Available https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/457542_6. Accessed 28 February 2019.
⦁ Healthline. Skin Infection: Types, Causes, and Treatment. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/skin-infection. Accessed 15 July 2019.
⦁ Koning S, Verhagen AP, van Suijlekom-Smit LWA, et al. Interventions for Impetigo (Review). The Cochrane Collaboration. The Cochrane library 2009;3:1-75. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2003, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD003261. Available at: DOI: 10.1002/14651858 CD003261.pub2. Accessed 15 May 2017.
⦁ Mayo Clinic. Impetigo. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/impetigo/symptoms-causes/syc-20352352. Accessed 15 July 2019.
⦁ Johns Hopkins Medicine. Impetigo. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/impetigo. Accessed 15 July 2019.
⦁ Cleveland Clinic. Boils & Carbuncles. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15153-boils–carbuncles. Accessed 15 July 2019.
⦁ Stulberg DL, Penrod MA, Blatny RA. Common Bacterial Skin Infections. Am Fam Physician 2002;66(1):119-24.
⦁ Massachusetts General Hospital. Folliculitis and Carbuncles. Available at: ⦁ https://www.massgeneral.org/conditions/condition.aspx?id=174⦁ &⦁ display=about_this_condition. Accessed 15 July 2019.
⦁ Kaji AH. Wounds. Available at URL: ⦁ https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/injuries-and-poisoning/first-aid/wounds?query=Lacerations#. Accessed 25 March 2019.
⦁ Summit Medical Group. Wound (Skin) Infection. Available at: https://www.summitmedicalgroup.com/library/pediatric_health/hhg_wound_infection/. Accessed 15 July 2019.
⦁ Johns Hopkins Medicine. Other Bacterial Skin Infections. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/other-bacterial-skin-infections. Accessed 15 July 2019.
⦁ Mayo Clinic. Staph Infections: Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/staph-infections/symptoms-causes/syc-20356221. Accessed 15 July 2019.
⦁ National Health Service (NHS). Staph infection. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/staphylococcal-infections/. Accessed 15 July 2019.


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