Boils and skin infections are usually caused by bacteria. Avoid sharing items and wash hands thoroughly, especially after touching skin infections.
A boil (sometimes known as a furuncle) is an infection of the skin, often around a hair follicle. It is usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (commonly known as golden staph). Many healthy people carry these bacteria on their skin or in their nose, but do not have any symptoms. Boils occur when bacteria get through broken skin and cause tender, swollen, pimple-like sores, which are full of pus. Boils usually get better on their own, but severe or recurring cases may require medical treatment and support.
Staph bacteria may also cause other skin infections, including impetigo. Impetigo, commonly known as school sores (as they affect school-age children), are small blisters or flat crusty sores on the skin. See the Impetigo factsheet for specific information on Impetigo.
Most skin infections are diagnosed on the basis of their appearance and the presence of any related symptoms (such as fever). Your doctor may take swabs or samples from boils, wounds, or other sites of infection to identify the bacteria responsible. Some infections may be caused by bacteria that are resistant to some antibiotics. See the MRSA in the community factsheet for detailed information on infections caused by antibiotic resistant strains.
Keep boils or other skin infections clean and covered.
Do not squeeze boils as this may cause the infection to spread.
If the sores spread or get worse, or you become unwell with fever, see your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics (by mouth or as an ointment). It is very important to follow the recommended treatment and finish the full course of antibiotics.
Boils and other skin infections are spread between people by:
While you have the infection
To prevent boils and skin infections children should be encouraged to:
In addition to general hygiene measures, specific measures to prevent spread in schools and childcare include:
Boils and skin infections are not notifiable in NSW. Public health units can advise on the control of outbreaks.
For further information please call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055