4 Infections That Can Affect Your Skin Health—and 6 Ways To Prevent Them (2023)

Skin infections occur when germs infect your skin or the soft tissues below the skin's surface. There are four main types of germs that can infect your skin: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Anyone can develop a skin infection. In fact, skin infections are the third most common medical concern that healthcare providers treat in an ambulatory center (which includes places such as urgent care, surgical centers, emergency rooms, and doctors' offices).

Common infection symptoms include a rash, swelling, redness, inflammation, or abscesses. However, the symptoms you have will depend on the specific infection that you're experiencing. While your symptoms may be uncomfortable, fortunately, there are several treatment options available that can help you heal.

There are four types of germs that can cause skin infections. These include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.

Bacterial Infections

There are several types of bacterial skin infections, including:

  • Cellulitis
  • Impetigo
  • Abscesses and boils
  • Carbuncles
  • Folliculitis
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Ecthyma

Viral Infections

Certain viruses can also inflame your skin and produce symptoms of an infection. Some common types of viral infections are:

  • Shingles
  • Chickenpox
  • Measles
  • Warts
  • Herpes simplex virus (HSV)
  • Rubella
  • Fifth disease
  • Hand, foot, and mouth disease
  • Mumps
  • Roseola
  • Molluscum contagiosum

Fungal Infections

Among the more common types of fungal infections include:

  • Mycosis
  • Athlete's foot
  • Ringworm
  • Yeast infections
  • Jock itch
  • Candida infections

Parasitic Infections

The final type of skin infection is caused by parasites, which are tiny organisms that feed and reproduce on your body. Common parasitic infections include:

  • Lice
  • Scabies
  • Hookworm
  • Pediculosis
  • Tick bites
  • Mites


The symptoms of skin infections can vary greatly based on the type of infection you have and the severity of your condition.

Bacterial Infection Symptoms

Each kind of bacterial skin infection causes a specific set of symptoms, including:

  • Cellulitis: Dull pain, tenderness, redness, heat, and swelling
  • Impetigo: Red, itchy sores that can leak pus (white fluid), and honey-colored scabs, usually on the arms, legs, mouth, or nose
  • Boils and carbuncles: Swelling and pus-filled boils
  • MRSA: Painful, swollen, and red bumps on the skin that are full of pus

Viral Infection Symptoms

Symptoms of viral skin infections depend on the virus that you've contracted. These types of infections can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • Warts or hard growths on the skin, often on the fingers, genitals, buttocks, arms, or legs
  • Pain or tingling
  • Development of sores
  • Cold sores in the mouth, face, genitals, or buttocks

Fungal Infection Symptoms

If a type of fungus is the root cause of your infection, the symptoms you experience will depend on what part of your body the fungus is infecting. This can range from athlete's foot (which develops on the feet and toes) to yeast infections (which can cause symptoms in and around the genitals). With fungal infections, it's common to experience:

  • Skin irritation
  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Soreness or pain
  • Scaly skin
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Discharge

Parasitic Infection Symptoms

Similar to other skin infections, the exact symptoms of a parasitic infection will likely depend on the parasite that infecting you. Common symptoms you can experience may include:

  • Itching
  • Skin irritation
  • Development of sores around the skin
  • Pimply rash
  • Cysts
  • Nodules
  • Lesions
  • Redness

Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites can spread to your skin and cause infection in a variety of ways, including:

  • Developing wounds or cuts on the skin, which makes it easy for germs to infect your bloodstream
  • Having moist areas on your skin, such as on your skin folds or on skin that comes in contact with other skin (e.g., underneath your breasts, on your armpits, etc.)
  • Swimming in contaminated water
  • Engaging in sexual or skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a skin infection

Risk Factors

You may also be at an increased risk of developing a skin infection due to the following factors:

  • Trauma or injury to the skin
  • Poor blood circulation
  • Eczema or other skin conditions
  • Being older in age
  • Living with an autoimmune disorder or being immunocompromised
  • Undergoing chemotherapy
  • Malnutrition
  • Having obesity or diabetes
  • Paralysis or long-term bed rest
  • Chronic swelling in the limbs


If you start noticing symptoms of a skin infection, it's in your best interest to see your healthcare provider for testing and treatment. At your appointment, they will usually ask you about your medical history and perform a physical exam. Your provider can also perform and order a variety of diagnostic tests to understand what's causing your symptoms. These include:

  • Visual assessment: Look at the skin to screen for signs of infection
  • Skin culture: Collect a sample of affected skin by either scraping or swabbing it and send it to a lab to investigate the sample under a microscope
  • Blood tests: Help detect the underlying cause of the infection and whether symptoms are due to a specific type of bacteria, fungus, virus, or parasite

As your provider takes a closer look at your skin, they will also need to rule out underlying conditions that affect the skin before making a diagnosis for a skin infection. These health conditions may include:

  • Dermatitis
  • Deep venous thrombosis
  • Psoriasis
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Bug bites
  • Allergic reactions
  • Lymphedema
  • Gout

There are several treatment options that your provider may recommend if you have a skin infection. Your exact treatment plan will depend on your symptoms and the cause of your infection. The most common options for treating these infections include:

  • Topical creams: You can medical ointments directly to your skin to help keep symptoms at bay. Based on the type of infection you have, your options may include Centany (mupirocin), Baciguent (bacitracin), Neosporin (neomycin), Sklice (ivermectin), Elimite (permethrin 1%), and Ulesfia (benzyl alcohol 5%).
  • Antibiotics: For more serious bacterial skin infections, your provider may prescribe antibiotics medications that you can take by mouth. These medications may include Vancocin (vancomycin), Zyvox (linezolid), Tygacil (tigecycline), Cubicin (daptomycin), and Teflaro (ceftaroline).
  • Antiviral drugs: If your skin infection is the result of a virus, you can use a variety of antiviral treatments. Some options are Valtrex (valaciclovir), Zovirax (acyclovir), and Trans-Vers-Al (salicylic acid),
  • Drainage: In cases where your skin infection has led to the development of boils or abscesses, your provider may decide to drain the fluid from the inside. Healthcare providers use sterilized equipment to make a small cut in the skin. Draining the fluid inside eases discomfort.

How to Prevent Skin Infections

Preventing skin infection primarily means minimizing or avoiding exposure to the germs that can infect you. The following steps may reduce your risk of contracting an infection:

  • Carefully and thoroughly wash your hands, especially before eating and after handling food
  • Use shower shoes when bathing in gym locker rooms or other public bathrooms
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing to prevent the build-up of moisture on your skin
  • Clean any cuts or wounds with soap and water
  • Keep cuts or wounds covered with gauze or bandages
  • Avoid sharing clothing, razors, or hygiene itemswith others

If skin infections are left untreated, you may be at risk of developing more serious complications, such as:

  • Necrotizing fasciitis: Severe infections can spread to tissues underneath the skin, causingcells to die and leading to severe pain, discoloration (often gray or blue), and blisters
  • Lymphadenitis: Enlarged lymph nodes, or lymphadenitis, can occur as the infection worsens
  • Gangrene: Severe bacterial infections can cause gangrene, which is the death of your skin tissues, often in the fingers, arms, legs, or toes
  • Osteomyelitis: This condition occurs when an infection spreads to your bone, eventually killing portions of the bone and causing pain, fever, and chills
  • Bacteremia: When bacteria spread to your bloodstream, you may develop this severe infection that causes shaking, fever, chills, and abdominal pain
  • Sepsis: A very serious complication that causes a severe immune reaction in the body and can damage multiple organ systems, which can lead to death
  • Endocarditis: If a bacterial or fungal infection spreads to your heart, this condition can cause dangerous inflammation of the inner lining and valves, leading to fever, chills, and extreme fatigue

A Quick Review

There are four primary types of skin infections: bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic. These infections can cause a variety of symptoms, including redness, itchiness, sores, skin irritation, and swelling. You can develop these infections if you have cuts or wounds on the skin that germs can breed in, by engaging in sexual contact with someone who has a skin infection, or when you come into contact with contaminated water.

Fortunately, several types of creams and oral medications can help reduce your symptoms. Keeping your hands clean, cleaning cuts or wounds thoroughly, and wearing loose-fitted clothing are some ways you can prevent skin infections.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are all types of skin infections bacterial infections?

    While bacteria are often at the root of several skin infections, there are other types of infections you can have. Other infections may be caused by viruses, fungi, and parasites.

  • What is the most serious skin infection?

    Some of the more serious skin infections include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), cellulitis, and impetigo. That's because they infections can be more difficult to treat and can lead to severe complications like sepsis and gangrene.

  • How do you know what skin infection you have?

    Seeing your healthcare provider is the best way to know what skin infection you have. Your provider can rely on several tests and examinations, such as a visual assessment, biopsies, swab tests, and blood tests to learn what's causing your symptoms.

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