What are common types of skin infections?

Your skin helps protect you from germs, but sometimes it can get infected by them. Some common types of skin infections are:

Bacterial skin infections

These are very common and range from the annoying to the deadly. The two most common bacteria that cause skin infections are Staphylococcus (staph) and Streptococcus (strep). Factors such as minor trauma, preexisting skin disease, poor hygiene and impaired immunity can make you more susceptible to skin infection. Cellulitis is caused by bacteria, most often by strep or staph, that spreads through the skin to deeper tissues. You can get infected after any event that causes a break in the skin, such as surgery, a cut or bite, a new tattoo or piercing, or problems that cause skin breakdown such as eczema, psoriasis, and fungal infection like athlete’s foot.

Cellulitis can progress to a more severe infection that spreads throughout the body called sepsis. Some people are at higher risk for cellulitis and get more ill, such as diabetics, people with a weakened immune system and those with edema. Impetigo is a contagious infection affecting the top layer of the skin, and is common among pre-school aged children and those who play contact sports. It is usually treated with a topical antibiotic.

Viral skin infections

Shingles is a red, painful blistering rash affecting the nerves. Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles since the virus stays in the body and can get reactivated with age, severe stress, an illness such as HIV or cancer, chemotherapy or radiation or after taking cortisone a long time, after an injury or if the immune system is weakened. Herpes simplex is a contagious and common viral infection with cold sores (or fever blisters) as the most obvious symptom. Most cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).

Other names for cold sores caused by HSV-1 are oral herpes and herpes simplex labialis. A closely related herpes simplex virus, HSV-2, causes most cases of genital herpes. But either HSV-1 or HSV-2 can cause a herpes sore on the face or genitals.

Fungal skin infections

Athlete’s foot refers to a skin eruption that is confined to the foot, in both athletes and non-athletes. It can occur anywhere on the foot, including the sole, toe webs, and back of the foot. “Athlete’s foot” is a commonly used popular term that can refer to any skin inflammation of the foot in an athlete. While this frequently is a result of fungal infections, there are other causes such as contact allergens, irritants, sweat and rash (intertrigo), poorly fitting shoes, psoriasis, interdigital bacterial toe web infections, and fungal infections.

Fungi (either yeasts or molds) are a common cause of athlete's foot. These fungi can be contracted by sharing the shoes or socks of an infected person. They need a warm moist environment to flourish and can be found growing on the floors of locker rooms and public showers and in swimming pools and whirlpools.

Athlete’s foot seems to be relatively uncommon in humans who rarely wear closed shoes. It is most common is older adult males. Most commonly, athlete's foot is characterized by cracking and itchy, moist, white, scaly lesions or sores between the toes. It frequently spreads to the sole of the foot. Another type of athlete’s foot is a dry, scaly form that causes a reddish ”moccasin-like” area over the soles of the feet. This type often affects both feet. Less frequently, this infection may involve painful blistering lesions, which can be weepy.

Yeast infections

The most common is candidiasis. Candidiasis is infection with Candida species. More than 20 species of Candida exist. The most common is Candida albicans. These fungi live on all surfaces of our bodies and only occasionally cause infection. Diabetics, people with HIV, those with cancer, weakened immune systems are all more susceptible to yeast infections and can cause critical illness with complications, or death.

Parasitic skin infections

Body and head lice, worms and scabies are where small insects or worms can burrow into the skin or lay eggs there and cause severe itching and distress. Lice are caused by a small insect that can infest skin anywhere on the body and is highly contagious. It is often found in child-care settings and spread from person to person by close contact and from shared clothing and hats, towels, hairbrushes and combs.

A skin condition called creeping eruption is caused by hookworms in dog and car feces. When a human comes into contact with the feces, it can cause a snake-like rash with intense itching and sometimes small blisters on the area of the body where the skin made contact.

Scabies is an infestation of mites (tiny insects) characterized by small, red bumps and intense itching. This highly contagious infection often spreads from person to person while they are sleeping together in the same bed, or during close, personal contact. The itching is caused by the mites burrowing into the skin where they lay eggs that hatch a few days later. Scabies can affect people of all ages and social classes.

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Main Line Health provides dermatology care — including effective treatments, preventative care and cancer screenings — to ages in the Philadelphia area.