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5 Most Prevalent Bacterial Skin Infections and their Treatment

Your skin is the largest organ of the body, and its main function is to protect your body and keep it safe from infection. However, it does happen that sometimes the skin gets infected. A wide range of germs can cause skin infections, and the symptoms can also range from being mild to serious. While mild infections are treatable with over-the-counter medications and even home remedies, other more serious infections may need to be treated with medical assistance.

Bacterial skin infections are one of the most common types of skin infections. They can be mild and just cause some minor annoyance, but they can also be life-threatening. Most bacterial infections are caused by the bacteria named Staphylococcus aureus (staph) or Streptococcus pyogenes, which is also responsible for causing strep throat.

Bacterial infections may appear to be different depending on where they appear, the type of bacteria, and the person’s age as well. Your doctor can successfully treat most bacterial infections. However, more complicated infections may need to be treated by a rheumatologist or dermatologist. In some of the most severe cases, a bacterial infection can even spread to the blood, a condition known as septicemia. Septicemia can be a life-threatening condition.

5 Most Prevalent Bacterial Skin Infections and their Treatment

5 Most Prevalent Bacterial Skin Infections and their Treatment

Here are some of the most prevalent types of bacterial skin infections and their treatment.

  1. Cellulitis

    Cellulitis impacts the deepest layers of the skin, known as the dermis and the subcutaneous tissue. This type of bacterial skin infection appears as a red and swollen area on the skin and can be tender and hot when touched. Cellulitis typically happens when the skin gets broken, and the bacteria enters the body from that place. The skin might be broken near ulcers, burns, bruises, or even surgical wounds.(1, 2)

    It is estimated that over 14 million cellulitis cases are diagnosed yearly in the United States.(3) The infection can occur anywhere on the body, and if left untreated, it can lead to many serious complications. There are many types of bacteria that can cause skin infections like cellulitis, but the most common bacteria responsible for cellulitis are Streptococcus and Staphylococcus.

    Cellulitis can be a painful skin infection. It first appears as a swollen, discolored area, but the swelling and discoloration can spread rapidly. On lighter skin tones, this infection may appear pink or red, while on darker skin tones, it may look purple, gray, or dark brown. Cellulitis tends to most commonly affect the lower legs and feet, though the infection can develop anywhere on a person’s face or body.(4)

    The common symptoms of cellulitis include:

    • Redness or inflammation of the skin
    • Pain and tenderness in the infected area
    • Tonight, glossy or swollen skin
    • skin rash or skin sore that spreads rapidly
    • An abscess with pus
    • Fever
    • A feeling of warmth in the infected area

    In more severe cases, cellulitis symptoms may include:

    If left untreated, cellulitis may even spread to other parts of the body, and if it spreads, you may experience some other symptoms as well, including:

    • Blisters
    • Drowsiness
    • Lethargy
    • Dark brown or red streaks on the infected area

    Cellulitis treatment involves taking oral antibiotics for at least five days. Your doctor may also prescribe pain relievers if you are in pain. In some cases, doctors may administer intravenous (IV) antibiotics immediately after the diagnosis of your symptoms. You also need to rest until your symptoms get better.(5) You will also find relief from the swelling by raising the affected limb higher than your heart level.

    Cellulitis tends to typically resolve within seven to ten days after taking antibiotics. If the infection is more severe, though, you may need to be on treatment for a longer time.(6)

    If the cellulitis spreads to the bloodstream and lymph nodes, it can be life-threatening. If you suspect any such thing, you should seek immediate medical help.

  2. Erysipelas

    Erysipelas is another type of common bacterial skin infection that occurs in the upper layer of the skin. It is very similar to cellulitis, which affects the lower layers of the skin. Both bacterial conditions are identical in appearance, and they have the same form of treatment.(7, 8)

    Erysipelas is commonly caused by the group A Streptococcus bacterium, the same bacteria that causes strep throat. The infection causes large, raised red patches on the skin. Erysipelas usually occurs on the legs and face. This can be accompanied by many other symptoms, including:

    • Blisters on the affected area
    • Fever
    • Chills
    • A general feeling of unwell
    • Swollen glands
    • A red, swollen, and painful area of skin with a raised edge

    If erysipelas occurs on the face, the swollen area may spread to both cheeks and the nose.

    Erysipelas occurs when the Streptococcus bacteria penetrates the outer barrier of the skin. While these bacteria usually live on the skin and other surfaces without causing any harm, but they can enter the skin through a wound or cut and lead to an infection.

    Young children, especially between the ages of two to six years old, and adults over the age of 60 years are more at risk of developing erysipelas. Older adults who have weakened immune systems or those who have problems with fluid accumulation after surgery are also at a greater risk.(9)

    Erysipelas can be treated at home, but some cases may need to be treated in a hospital. Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor will come up with a treatment plan. This can include medication, home remedies, or even surgery.

    Antibiotics such as penicillin are the common treatment for erysipelas. You may need to take medications for one week, but more severe cases of erysipelas may need to be treated at the hospital, where the antibiotics are administered through a vein (IV antibiotics).

    Surgery is an option only reserved for the rarest cases of erysipelas. Surgical intervention may be required in those cases that progress rapidly and cause the healthy skin tissue to die. Surgery is then needed to cut away the dead and infected tissue.

  3. Bacterial Folliculitis

    Bacterial folliculitis is a common type of bacterial infection of the skin which results in a rash of raised bumps that can be painful and itchy. This is usually a common infection of the hair follicles. It can also be caused by ingrown hair, fungus, or blockages from skin products. Shaving or plucking of hairs can also increase the risk of developing bacterial folliculitis.(10) The bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, which already exists on your skin, can enter the skin and cause infection of the hair follicles. A cut or scrape on the skin becomes an easy access point for the bacteria.

    Symptoms of bacterial folliculitis include tiny, red, crusty bumps or small white-headed pimples that are filled with pus. They can be white, red, or yellow in color and may be accompanied by itching, swelling, and soreness in the affected area. This type of infection is more common in people who have acne as compared to those who have relatively clear skin.(11)

    Bacterial folliculitis tends to usually heal on its own, but some severe cases may need to be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, folliculitis can even cause permanent hair loss.

  4. Furuncles

    More commonly known as a boil, a furuncle is a painful bacterial infection that develops around a hair follicle. This starts as a red lump, which may be sore and tender to the touch. It may rapidly fill with pus as it grows in size. If left untreated, a furuncle can go on to develop into an abscess.

    Unlike folliculitis, which also infects a hair follicle, a furuncle is an infection that involves the entire pilosebaceous unit. Pilosebaceous units comprise of the entire hair shaft, the follicle, the sebaceous gland, and the arrector pili muscle, which is a bundle of small muscle fibers attached to a hair follicle. Pilosebaceous units can be found throughout the body, except on the soles of the feet, palms, and lower lip.

    Furuncles can be commonly found on the face, armpits, neck, thighs, and buttocks. To treat a furuncle, you can apply a warm compress to help drain the furuncle of pus. In severe cases, your doctor may have to puncture or lance the furuncle with a sterile instrument to allow the pus to drain out.(12, 13)

  5. Impetigo

    Impetigo is a bacterial infection that forms on the top layer of the epidermal skin. This is a highly contagious infection and is most commonly observed in children instead of adults. The impetigo rash is usually covered with a honey-colored crust. This infection is caused by Streptococcus and Staphylococcus.

    The sores of an impetigo infection typically tend to occur around the mouth and nose, but they can easily spread to other parts of the body through skin to skin contact, towels, and clothes. Impetigo is most commonly treated with topical antibiotics.(14, 15)


  1. Sullivan, T. and de Barra, E., 2018. Diagnosis and management of cellulitis. Clinical Medicine, 18(2), p.160.
  2. Ma, X.Y., Tian, L.X. and Liang, H.P., 2016. Early prevention of trauma-related infection/sepsis. Military Medical Research, 3(1), pp.1-7.
  3. Brown, B.D. and Watson, K.L.H., 2021. Cellulitis. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
  4. 2022. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/Cellulitis.html> [Accessed 11 August 2022].
  5. Raff, A.B. and Kroshinsky, D., 2016. Cellulitis: a review. Jama, 316(3), pp.325-337.
  6. nhs.uk. 2022. Cellulitis. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cellulitis/> [Accessed 11 August 2022].
  7. Bonnetblanc, J.M. and Bédane, C., 2003. Erysipelas. American journal of clinical dermatology, 4(3), pp.157-163.
  8. Opriessnig, T. and Coutinho, T.A., 2019. Erysipelas. Diseases of swine, pp.835-843.
  9. Dupuy, A., Benchikhi, H., Roujeau, J.C., Bernard, P., Vaillant, L., Chosidow, O., Sassolas, B., Guillaume, J.C., Grob, J.J. and Bastuji-Garin, S., 1999. Risk factors for erysipelas of the leg (cellulitis): case-control study. Bmj, 318(7198), pp.1591-1594.
  10. Ogunbiyi, A., 2019. Pseudofolliculitis barbae; current treatment options. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 12, p.241.
  11. Laureano, A.C., Schwartz, R.A. and Cohen, P.J., 2014. Facial bacterial infections: folliculitis. Clinics in Dermatology, 32(6), pp.711-714.
  12. Andrews, G.C., 1929. The treatment of boils and carbuncles. The American Journal of Surgery, 6(4), pp.458-460.
  13. PINKUS, H., 1979. Furuncle. Journal of Cutaneous Pathology, 6(6), pp.517-518.
  14. Koning, S., van der Sande, R., Verhagen, A.P., van Suijlekom‐Smit, L.W., Morris, A.D., Butler, C.C., Berger, M. and van der Wouden, J.C., 2012. Interventions for impetigo. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1).
  15. Darmstadt, G.L. and Lane, A.T., 1994. Impetigo: an overview. Pediatric dermatology, 11(4), pp.293-303.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 15, 2022

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