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Medical Dermatology

Skin Infections

The skin is the one of the largest organs in the body and our protection against infections. However, it can also become the victim of infections by bacteria, viruses and fungi. The bacteria, viruses and fungi that cause skin infections can range from mild to severe.

Those with preexisting conditions such as eczema or dermatitis are more susceptible to skin infections. Those suffering from an injury, both minor and significant, are also susceptible to skin infections. Despite preexisting conditions or injury, we are all susceptible to skin infections. Good hygiene is clearly important, but some times there is no prevention, only treatment.

There are literally hundreds of skin infections, but here are a few common infections:

Common Bacterial Skin Infections

Many bacteria can infect the skin, but the most common are Staphylococcus (Staph) and Streptococcus (Strep). Staph infections are easily spread and cause red, swollen, painful or itchy skin changes. They can spread to other parts of the body and cause dangerous and potentially deadly infections. Strep infections cause strep throat and skin infections that can be life-threatening if spread to other parts of the body. They are easily spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. 


Cellulitis is a common infection of the deep layers of the skin. The infection spreads from the surface of the skin to the deeper layers causing localized redness, pain, swelling and heat.

Skin abscesses (Furuncle)

A skin abscess or furuncle is a warm, painful pocket of pus (a boil) under the skin caused by a Staph infection. The most common places for boils to appear are on the face, neck, armpits, shoulders, and buttocks. When one forms on the eyelid, it is called a sty. If several boils appear in a group, this is a more serious type of infection called a carbuncle.


Folliculitis is inflammation of the hair follicles due to an infection with staphylococcus or a fungus that appears like pimples on a hair follicle. It is common in people with acne and shaving increases the risk of folliculitis. Often it resolves without treatment, but topical and oral antibiotics can help with resolution. It can affect any part of the body that has hair including the head, neck, trunk, buttocks, arms and legs.


Impetigo is a common, contagious childhood infection caused by Staph that creates scabby, yellow, crusted sores and small blisters filled with yellow fluid on the face, arms and legs. The lesions are itchy and painful. Scratching spreads the infection.

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)

MRSA is a bacterial infection caused by antibiotic-resistant staph aureus, often acquired in a hospital or health care facility or a community. MRSA can live on surfaces longer than most other bacteria and viruses. Untreated MRSA can be life-threatening by infecting tissues and organs like a heart valve, bone, a joint or lungs.

Necrotizing fasciitis

Necrotizing fasciitis, commonly known as flesh-eating disease, is an infection that results in the loss of oxygen to parts of the body’s soft tissue, causing tissue death. It is a severe disease of sudden onset that spreads rapidly. Symptoms include red or purple skin in the affected area, severe pain, fever, and vomiting.

Common Viral Skin Infections

You can catch some viral infections by skin to skin contact with an infected person. Examples of this include herpes simplex virus (cold sores and herpes) and Varicella zoster (chicken pox and shingles). Other viruses can cause skin rashes through contact with respiratory droplets (cough, sneeze) or bodily fluids (feces, saliva).

Chickenpox (Varicella zoster)

Chickenpox is a red, itchy blistering rash all over the body. It usually affects children, but can affect adults. Fortunately, the development of the chickenpox vaccine has reduced the number of cases significantly.

Cold Sores

The herpes simplex virus causes cold sores. Cold sores can occur both on the inside of the mouth, outside of the mouth and on other areas of the body.


The Human Papilloma Virus is the cause of all warts. Warts are contagious and may be painful. They can appear on the hands or where the skin is shaved and can infect the genitals.

Molluscum contagiosum

This infection is due to a poxvirus and causes small, skin-colored bumps that usually disappear in 6-12 months without treatment. It often affects children but can affect anyone who acquires the virus. It can also present on the genitalia as a sexually transmitted disease.


Measles is a viral infection that affects the respiratory tract first and then enters the blood and travels through the body and creates a characteristic skin rash. It is typically spread through a sneeze or cough. The virus can live outside the body for up to two hours.


Shingles is an infection that also causes chickenpox. The virus lives dormant for decades after getting the chickenpox, and if it is reactivated it causes shingles. Shingles is a painful red rash that also itches and causes blisters on the torso, neck and face.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease or Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD).

This is a highly contagious infection caused by the Coxsackie virus, and is easily spread through direct contact with unwashed hands and surfaces with contaminated feces or saliva.  It creates blisters or sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet and typically affects children under age 5. It is usually mild and goes away on its own in a few days.

Fungal infections

Fungal infections can occur due to contact with soil, animals, or humans infected with fungus. Often moisture such as humidity or sweating can increase the spread of these infections. They are usually not serious except for people with a compromised immune system.

Tinea versicolor

Tinea versicolor is a fungal infection due to overgrowth of normal yeast that lives on our skin. This causes discolored patches on the upper body (lighter or darker than your normal skin) that can itch or appear flaky.

Ringworm (Tinea corporis)

Ringworm is a fungal infection that spreads easily from skin to skin contact. It is easy to diagnose because it creates a circular-shaped rash. It can affect the feet (athlete’s foot), groin (Jock itch), scalp, and hands. If not properly treated it can lead to bacterial infections and dermatitis.

Jock itch (Tinea cruris)

Jock itch is a fungal infection that affects the skin of your genitals, inner thighs and buttocks. Jock itch causes an itchy, red, often ring-shaped rash in these warm, moist areas of your body


Onychomycosis is a fungal infection of the toenails and less commonly the fingernails. This can cause discoloration, thickening, and deformities of the toenail. Often a crumbly debris is present under the nail.

Tinea capitis

Tinea capitis is a disease caused by superficial fungal infection of the skin of the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes, with a propensity for attacking hair shafts and follicles. Hair loss can occur with this type of fungal infection.

Parasitic Infections

Parasitic infections are caused by parasites that burrow into the skin and lay eggs.

They include: Lice, bedbugs, and scabies (Mites). 

Phoenix Surgical Dermatology Group provides board-certified and fellowship-trained medical dermatology. If you’re concerned about potential skin infections, schedule an appointment today. From diagnosis to treatment and management, we can help.

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