Bacterial, Fungal & Viral Skin Infections: Common Signs & Symptoms, Types, Causes, Treatment & Prevention Methods
Common Skin Infections
The human body comprises several organs such as the liver, the eyes, the stomach, the heart, etc. Of all the bodily organs, the skin is the largest, in terms of surface area.
The skin is the sense organ of touch. It is through the skin that we get to feel things, and through it the brain tells us whether a sensation is painful or cold or hot.
Besides being the organ of touch, the skin also performs some other functions. The skin plays a role in excretion, as sweat is released through the skin. Perhaps, the most important function of the skin is for protection. The human skin protects the body from the environmental elements, such as cold and infection.
Though the skin is a protective layer over the body, it doesn’t mean that it cannot be affected by disease. In fact, the skin is one of the most vulnerable organs in the body to be infected due to its out-of-body nature. There are several skin problems that can disrupt the proper functioning of the skin. This is the focus of this article.
The condition of the skin can be a pointer to the overall health condition of a person. Changes in the appearance of the skin, the skin texture, or skin colour may be representative of a skin condition.
Through this post, we aim to give a concise list of the most common skin infections. This is done because it will not be easy to present a comprehensive list in an article of this size, perhaps a journal or textbook is more appropriate for that.
Types of skin infections
There are many types of skin infections, which are caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Others may also be caused by exposure to an allergen or chemical irritants. As mentioned in the introduction, this article may not be able to cover all the known types of skin infections for some reasons as explained. So, the following are some of the most common skin infections:
- Scabies: Scabies is a parasitic skin infection that is caused by an insect – the human itch mite. The major symptoms of scabies are itching, redness of the skin, and scaly skin.
- Dermatitis or eczema: Eczema is a term for several inflammatory skin conditions. Eczema is commonly associated with itching and inflammation of the skin. It is also common to find red rashes on the skin.
- Candidiasis: Candidiasis is a yeast (fungi) infection that causes skin irritation. Candidiasis mostly affects the groin, knee, and armpits.
- Warts: Warts are bumps on the skin caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). Warts can be treated by using acids or medicine that removes them from the skin.
- Ringworm: Contrary to what you may think, ringworms are not caused by worms. Far from it, ringworm, also called tinea, is actually due to a fungal infection. The fungus responsible for this skin infection is known as dermatophytes.
- Hives: Hives are caused by allergic reaction of the body to insect bites or food. Hives are marked by raised itchy welts on the skin.
- Cold sore: Cold sores are caused by a virus – the herpes simplex virus – and are associated with red blisters around the lips. Itching and a painful sensation around the affected areas are also common with cold sores.
- Impetigo: Impetigo is another common skin infection that is highly contagious. It is common among young children and is marked by localized redness of the skin that develops into blisters, which in turn, eventually burst and form a crust. Impetigo can go on its own usually after 3 weeks. If it is treated, it takes about 7 days for the infection to go.
- Cellulitis: Cellulitis is the inflammation of body tissue in the subcutaneous layer. Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that is characterized by redness of the skin, pain, tenderness of the skin, and swelling. Antibiotics are the most common remedies for cellulitis.
- Athlete’s foot: This is another fungal skin infection that is characterized by a rash on the feet. Other symptoms of athlete’s feet include dryness and itching of the skin, sores, and cracking of the skin between the toes.
- Carbuncle: A carbuncle is a bacterial skin infection that is marked by a red lump beneath the skin. This type of skin infection occurs when bacteria (Staphylococcus aerus) enters the hair follicles.
- Chickenpox: This is an acute skin disease that is caused by a virus (varicella zoster). Chickenpox is a contagious disease as it can be transmitted from person-to-person. It mostly affects children.
- Shingles: shingles is an infection of the skin caused by the same virus responsible for chickenpox – varicella zoster. Shingles only happens in people who have been infected with chickenpox before. It is important to state here that shingles is not contagious, but people infected with the virus can transmit chickenpox.
- Leprosy: Leprosy is a bacterial infection that mostly affects people in tropical and subtropical regions. The disease is contagious and is caused by a bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae. The major symptoms of leprosy include a wasting away of parts of the skin and an inflammation of nodules underneath the skin.
- Boils: A boil is a sore on the skin with pus. Boils are the most common type of skin infection. Boils are caused by bacteria and are usually red and swollen.
- Measles: Measles is an acute and very contagious skin disease caused by a virus. Though the most vulnerable sets of people are children and pregnant women, measles can also affect anybody. Common symptoms of measles include red spots, rash, and fever.
Causes of skin infections
There are various types of skin infections which arise due to different causes. According to the type of infection, the following are the major causes of skin infections:
- Bacteria: Many skin infections are as a result of bacterial activity in the body. Infections of this type usually occur when there is an opening in the skin, like a cut or wound. Examples of bacterial skin infections are leprosy and cellulitis. And while having a wound or cut does not necessarily mean that someone will get a skin infection, it, however, increases the risk of developing one.
- Virus: Skin infections can also be caused by a virus. Most viral skin infections are caused by viruses from these three groups; herpes, poxvirus, and HPV (human papillomavirus). Examples of skin infections caused by a virus include warts, chickenpox, and measles.
- Fungi: A fungus may also be the cause of a skin infection. Fungal skin infections may arise due to lifestyle and type of environment. Since fungi thrive in warm and wet areas, living in such environments or exposing the body to such factors can increase the risk of developing a fungal skin infection. Ringworm and candidiasis are examples of fungal skin infections.
- Parasites: Parasites such as insects can also be responsible for skin infection. Here, the parasitic insect or organism enters the skin of a human host and lays its eggs there. From there, the deposits of the insect begin to cause symptoms. An example of skin infection caused by parasites is scabies caused by the human itch mite (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis).
Apart from the above causes, a compromised immune system also makes it easy for a person to get a skin infection.
Common signs and symptoms of most skin infections
Below are some of the common signs and symptoms of most skin infections:
- Rash on the skin
- Redness of the skin
- Itchy skin
- Scaly skin
- Bumps or swelling with pus
- Skin lesions
- Skin discoloration
- Pimple on the skin
- Dryness of skin
- Overproduction of sebum leading to oily skin
Diagnosis of skin infections
Diagnosis of a skin infection begins by first identifying the type of disease-causing organism responsible for the infection. This process of identification normally starts with a physical examination of the affected skin. In most cases, it is easy for the dermatologist (skin doctor) to identify the type of infection based on the appearance.
During the physical examination, it is also common for the doctor to ask the patient about symptoms, so as to correctly name the infection.
Prognosis for skin infections
The outcome of virtually all skin infections is usually non-fatal. However, depending on the type of skin infection, the prognosis will vary. While most skin infections caused by bacteria will respond well to treatment, few may prove resistant.
Treatment of skin infections
Treatment options for skin infections vary depending on the type of infection, the cause, the symptoms, and the severity of the condition. For instance, skin infections caused by bacteria are best treated with antibacterial medication like antibiotics, while viral skin infections need to be treated with antiviral medicine.
Conventional medicinal treatment will normally involve the use of creams and ointments which are to be topically applied on the affected skin.
For skin infections that present symptoms of inflammation, anti-inflammatory drugs may be used. There are many over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs that can be gotten for this purpose.
Antihistamines can also be used as remedy for skin conditions caused by allergens. These medications work by counteracting the effects of histamine in the body.
While surgery is an option for skin infection, it is usually the last resort: used only when other methods prove ineffective. Examples of skin infections that may need surgery include warts and skin cancer.
Prevention of skin infections
The fact that most skin infections are contagious (i.e. they can transmitted via contact or use of infected items) means that they can also be prevented. Below are some useful tips which you should consider if you want to prevent contracting any skin infection:
- Do not use items used by people who have a skin infection
- Avoid sharing your personal items, such as clothes or bed sheets
- Regularly wash your hands with soap and water to get rid of germs
- Avoid skin contact with a person infected with a skin disease
- Ensure to keep your items clean
- Eat healthy foods
- Get enough rest and drink lots of water
- Get vaccinated, especially before going to an area where a skin infection is endemic
There are many skin diseases/infections that affect man. The key to effective treatment of these diseases is by first understanding the cause of the disease. However, the best form of treatment is prevention. Most of the above-mentioned skin infections can be prevented by following the prevention tips listed in this article.