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Skin infections

Author: A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, September 2014.

What are infections?

Skin infections are diseases and conditions caused by or related to an external organism, and can include infestation by mites and insects.

Organisms can also lead to inflammatory skin diseases by provoking an innate or acquired immune reaction to them, eg acne, perioral dermatitis, seborrhoeic dermatitis.

Skin infection is more likely to occur in some circumstances.

What organisms cause infection?

Infectious organisms are classifed as:

Opportunistic infections

Opportunistic infection is infection in an immune suppressed patient that is more frequent or severe because of immune suppression. They can be caused by common infectious organisms (such as Staphylococcus aureus, Candida albicans or Herpes simplex) or ones that rarely infect healthy individuals (such as nocardia, bartonella, atypical mycobacteria, cytomegalovirus, cryptocococcus and other systemic mycoses (deep fungal infections).

Disease can be due to the following classes of organism.

Harmless microbes

Human skin is not sterile, but is colonised by many microorganisms—the microbiota.

Prevention of infection

Optimal health is required to prevent and treat infection.

Minimise risk of lacerations, abrasions, thermal and chemical burns, animal bites and insect bites.

Bear in mind that excessive hygienic measures may be counterproductive if they lead to:

When should infection be treated?

It is not always necessary to actively treat minor skin infections (eg, impetigo, folliculitis, tinea pedis, tinea unguium and herpes simplex), as these will settle on their own, at least in healthy individuals. Tackling infection often enhances natural immunity to them.

However, some infections should always be treated to prevent:

What is the treatment for infection?

Treatment of infection depends on the cause, its severity and its sensitivity to the proposed agent.

Related information

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