As the outer layer of the body, skin is the first line of defence against disease and infection. It envelopes the body in a protective layer, and skin itself is the body’s largest organ. Although quite thin, the skin performs a miraculous task in protecting internal organs, although nothing is perfect and skin itself can become infected in many ways by fungal, bacterial and viral infections.

Skin infections are generally the result of germs, of which there are thousands of varieties, and symptoms of infection range from very mild to extremely aggressive and dangerous. Mild infections are usually treated with products available from your local pharmacy, but stubborn and aggressive infections require diagnosis and treatments obtained from medical practitioners. Dermatology clinics are the first point of contact for people needing expert advice and assistance in treating all varieties of skin infections.

Bacterial skin infections

Bacterial skin infections appear as insignificant lumps or bumps that gradually increase over time. These infections usually attack through a break in the skin such as a small cut or scratch. The risk of infection is multiplied in people with a weak immune system, sometimes caused by an unrelated illness or medication side effects. There are many bacterial infection varieties that are easily treated with topical antibiotics, while other infections respond well to oral antibiotics.

Bacterial skin infection types include:

  • Cellulitis – inflammation of cellular tissue
  • Boils – a painful circular and raised skin inflammation
  • Impetigo – a contagious skin disease, usually the result of streptococcal bacterial infection
  • Leprosy – a chronic infection affecting the nervous system and skin, characterised by ulcerations, nodules and a loss of sensation in limbs or other parts of the body

Viral skin infections

Viral skin infections are the result of a contagious virus, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Common viral skin infections are usually the result of poxvirus, papillomavirus or herpes.

Viral skin infections include:

  • Herpes zoster, also known as shingles -is a localised, blistering and painful rash caused by reactivation of varicella zoster virus (VZV). It is characterised by dermatomal distribution, ie the blisters are confined to the cutaneous distribution of one or two adjacent sensory nerves which can be itchy and painful.
  • Chickenpox – very common in children, with symptoms including extremely itchy blisters, headache and fever
  • Measles – occurring mostly in children which is preceded by a prodromal period fever, malaise and loss of appetite, followed by conjunctivitis (red eyes), cough and coryza (blocked or runny nose 0 with white-blue spots in the buccal mucosa followed by non-itchy rash begins on face and behind the ears. Within 24–36 hours it spreads to the entire trunk and extremities (palms and soles rarely involved).
  • characterised by red spots erupting on the body
  • Warts – usually small and elevated, there are dozens of common wart varieties
  • Molluscum contagiosum – small, raised lesions usually found in clusters
  • Hand, foot, and mouth disease – flat, discoloured bumps or spots usually appearing on hands, feet, or around the mouth

Fungal skin infections

As with any fungus, these infections generally require a damp environment to flourish. The feet , groin, under the breasts, abdominal folds in obese patients and armpits are typical body regions where fungal infections can strike. A person’s individual body chemistry along with lifestyle choices can increase the risk of fungal infection. Fungi thrives where it is warm and moist, most noticeable in athletes or hot, humid environments where sweating is profuse.

Fungal infections include:

  • Ringworm – noticed as ring-shaped skin eruptions and caused by parasitic fungi
  • Athlete’s foot – affecting any part of the foot and characterised by scaling, cracking and redness
  • Nail fungus – toenails and fingernails become discoloured and brittle, sometimes breaking off altogether
  • Oral thrush – a fungal infection of the mouth, usually successfully treated with anti-fungal medication

Parasitic infection


Scabies is a skin infection caused by the scabies mites. It presents as red bumps and can cause itch particularly on the hands, fingers, skin folds, abdomen and genitalia. It is transmitted from humans and often occurs within families especially when there is close contact.


Treatment of skin infections will be determined by the infection type and your dermatologist will diagnose accurately and treat accordingly depending on the condition.