Skin infections can cause mild to severe physical discomfort. It is very important to seek a physician’s guidance at the first sign of an infection, since any infection can become progressively worse and more contagious without treatment. Untreated infections can not only cause intense pain, but they can also be life-threatening. We treat a wide variety of skin infections at Rao Dermatology.
It is also important to note that due to globalization and ease and frequency of modern travel, infectious diseases that were previously considered prevalent in some areas can now be found almost anywhere. Because of this, it is important that a physician have experience with less common and rare diseases. At Rao Dermatology, our physicians have previous international experience. We also actively participate in bringing patient education and quality medical care to underprivileged areas.
Cultures and skin samples play a pivotal role in correctly diagnosing and treating an infection. Having a doctor that is also a pathologist leads to faster, more accurate diagnoses because of the physicians’ greater depth of understanding of the body’s processes.
There are numerous bacteria that live naturally on normal skin and in the hair follicle that cause no harm. When there is an imbalance in natural bacteria or introduction of new bacteria through a wound or break in the skin, it can cause an infection. This can occur more easily if the immune system is already weakened from an unrelated condition. Bacterial infections are contagious to some degree, which depends on the strain of the bacteria. Most are transferred through direct contact.
Typically, a bacterial infection can first appear as a small red bump, with or without a pustule, located anywhere on the body. The bump can become crusted and oozy, and multiply into more bumps. Some bacterial infections are very mild, causing slightly unsightly or uncomfortable conditions like shaving bumps or folliculitis. These can usually be treated with a topical or, if necessary, an oral antibiotic. In more serious cases, some strains of bacteria can be resistant to treatment. In such cases, it is important to utilize cultures or analyze skin samples in order to pinpoint the strain of bacteria and the appropriate antibiotic. Intravenous antibiotics may be necessary.
In order to successfully treat a bacterial infection, it is critical to complete the regimen of medication prescribed by your doctor even if the symptoms seem to have dissipated. Skipping doses of medication or early discontinuation result in the survival of a few of the strongest bacteria, which in turn can result in an eventual recurrence of the infection that will be more resistant to treatment.
Untreated bacterial skin infections become more contagious as they spread and affect larger areas of the body. If left untreated, they can eventually become systemic and contaminate the bloodstream, and spread to other organs and areas of the body where they can be fatal.
Fungal infections are most often found on warm, dark, damp areas of the body such as the feet, armpit, or groin. Different fungal infections vary in their degrees of communicability. Some, such as yeast infections, are not contagious at all, while others can be transmitted through direct or indirect contact. Rashes caused by fungal infections can be treated through topical and oral medications.
Some people are more prone to fungal infections due to their personal body chemistry or because of their lifestyle (e.g. a runner who has recurrent athlete’s foot). If this is the case, your physician can work with you to cultivate habits and medication regimens to minimize the frequency of recurrent fungal infections.
Fungal infections are usually not life threatening, but are unsightly and usually become progressively more uncomfortable. In some cases, if left untreated, a fungal infection can become systemic in predisposed patients.
There are a wide variety of parasitic infections that can involve the skin and deeper tissues. Depending on the type of parasite, the infection could be limited to the skin, or it could be more transient, meaning that the parasite passes through the skin in its migration to the blood or other organs. Your dermatologist plays a critical role in determining whether or not the parasitic infection is isolated to the skin.
Parasitic infections of the skin usually involve a very small insect or worm-like organism that burrows its way into the skin to live there and lay its eggs, while deriving sustenance from its human host. One of the most common parasitic infections of the skin is scabies, which is extremely contagious – usually one infected person will eventually infect an entire household.
Untreated parasitic infections will eventually spread on the body and become more and more uncomfortable. Although they are usually not life-threatening by themselves, parasites can be carriers for other diseases. Also, any rash on the body that is constantly scratched can result in a bacterial infection when the skin is broken.
Some viral infections in the body cause widespread rashes, such as chicken pox or shingles. Others, such as herpes, cause localized outbreaks. Either way, after the rash occurs, resolution is typically seen after the immune system has cleared the infection. Some viruses can also remain dormant in the body and reactivate at a later time, such as HPV. Many childhood viral infections, such as chicken pox or measles, now have vaccinations to help prevent infection. More recently, an HPV vaccine was also developed for adolescents.
Although some viruses such as the common cold are very contagious, most viral skin infections, such as herpes and HPV, are less contagious, but still spread through direct and indirect contact. If a virus causes frequent outbreaks, such as a monthly cold sore, a daily oral antiviral might be prescribed. Otherwise, for occasional outbreaks your doctor may give you a prescription to keep on hand and take at the onset of symptoms.
If a viral infection goes untreated, the rashes and sores from recurring skin infections can eventually lead to a bacterial infection. Viral skin infections can be dangerous in patients who have a previously weakened or compromised immune system.