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HealthInfo Canterbury

About skin infections

Skin infections are common in people of all ages in New Zealand. Although a skin infection sounds like a minor problem, if not treated it can lead to more serious health problems, sometimes requiring time in hospital. This page gives information about avoiding skin infections, types of skin infection, and when to see a doctor about a skin problem.

What causes a skin infection?

Skin infections are generally caused by bacteria such as staphylococcus or MRSA getting into broken skin. A skin infection often starts as a minor cut, bite, graze, sting, or burn, or a patch of eczema. This broken skin can easily get infected, especially if some simple hygiene practices are not followed.

How can I avoid getting a skin infection?

The best way to avoid a skin infection is to practise healthy hygiene. Follow these simple guidelines for yourself and your family:

  1. Wash hands often with ordinary soap and water. You don't need to use a special antibacterial soap. If you have dry or sensitive skin, you can use a soap substitute such as aqueous cream or any cleanser that has a pH level of 5.5. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  2. Cut nails short. This helps with hygiene and can stop further damage from scratching at wounds or itchy skin.
  3. Cover all sores, cuts, or wounds with a plaster. Cheap supermarket plasters are fine to use and are just as good as the more expensive versions.
  4. Don't share bedding, towels, or clothing with anyone who has a wound or skin infection.
  5. Use ordinary household bleach in the bath to help reduce the risk of skin infection. Dilute one bottle-cap amount of bleach into the bath or in a bucket of water.

Common skin infections

When should I see a doctor?

It's important that you see your general practice team if you notice a sore or area of redness that:

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Updated June 2015.

See also:

Fungal skin infections

Page reference: 49791

Review key: HISNI-49791