The skin is the protective barrier between the inside of our bodies and the outside world of microorganisms, parasites and toxins. It is often the site of inflammation and infections.
In past times, before the advent of cleanliness and antibiotics, mankind was plagued by erysipelas, boils, carbuncles, and other severe infections of the skin, which are rarely seen now. The beta hemolytic streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus were ubiquitous in the past, and mostly are contained today.
Severe Infections presently require some skin abnormality, immune deficiency, neglect, animal bite or other breach of skin integrity to be a problem. Antibiotic resistance, however, is allowing some organisms like MERSA to make a comeback.
ECZEMA. or Atopic Dermatitis, was common in my medical practice. This condition weakens the skin barrier, allowing Staphylococcal infection to gain a foothold. In my day, If there were a flare of eczema severity, antibiotics would often help. Leg edema and swelling. such as from heart failure, especially coupled with diabetes and blood vessel disease is also an invitation to infection, such as cellulitis.
Redness, swelling, warmth and pain- the classic rubor, tumor, calor and dolor- as well as swollen local lymph nodes and fever often betray infection of the skin. Please see the recently posted infographic on celulitis.
IMMUNE DEFICIENCY raises the likelihood and risk of severe skin infections. Infection from “flesh-eating bacteria”, often beta hemolytic streptococci in deep tissue planes , is a medical emergency. Immediate surgery is often needed.
Disproportionate PAIN after injury or surgery is often a clue. Certain age groups have characteristic skin infections, such as the scalded skin syndrome of infants, and the acne of adolescents. Viruses, molds, and arthropods can also infect the skin.
Viruses, such as herpes in particular can simulate bacterial infection. Ringworm from fungi is easy to distinguish, but arthropod bites, and especially bee sting can look very much like bacterial infection. Scabies and mite infestation are so itchy as to be distinct.
Topical antibiotics applied on skin breaks like cuts or breaks are useful in preventing infection. These ointments and creams are like “artificial skin”. Once again, prevention is key.