Spotlight on Bacterial Skin Infections

In this edition of the newsletter, we’d like to spotlight an issue that’s becoming an increasing problem for many people- bacterial infections of the skin. All people have bacteria covering the surface of their skin and living inside their eyes, ears, and nose. Most of the time, these organisms are merely passive residents, living on our skin without causing any illness or disease. However, occasionally bacteria will enter a person’s skin and cause an infection. The infection may be localized to the superficial layers of the skin and cause a cellulitis (sel-yə-ˈlī-təs), which is an area of warm, red, swollen skin. At other times, bacteria may invade deeper into the skin and cause an abscess, a pocket of pus within the skin. Bacteria can also infect the skin around hair follicles and produce folliculitis (fə-ˌlik-yə-ˈlīt-əs), which produces multiple pimple-like bumps around hairs.

Skin infections can occur in anyone, even people with no health problems. However, these infections are much more common in individuals with altered immune systems, such as the elderly, people with diabetes, cancer patients, persons with HIV, and people on immunosuppressive medications (steroids, Enbrel®, Humira®, Remicade®, interferon, chemotherapy, and others). Serious skin infections are becoming more and more common in the community as “stronger” bacteria emerge due to the widespread use of antibiotics in the country. For instance, antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus (commonly called MRSA), which used to be seen only in hospitals and nursing home settings, is now a common cause of abscesses in the local community.

There are some simple steps people can take to significantly reduce their chances of developing a skin infection. First, people should only use a gentle soap when washing. Brands such as Dove®, Tone®, Caress®, and Lever 2000® are some favorites of dermatologists. Second, we should all moisturize our skin frequently. Dry, cracked skin allows bacteria to enter the body more easily, increasing the odds of a skin infection. However, you should avoid moisturizers with heavy scents or additives- simple petroleum jelly is a cheap and extremely effective way to keep your skin moist and healthy. As the weather warms up, most people find themselves outside more often.  Sun exposure dries the skin and increases the risk of skin infection, and it can also lead to premature aging and skin cancer. Therefore, always remember to wear sunscreen (SPF 30 or greater) when going out into the sunlight, and reapply frequently. These simple precautions can help you avoid skin infections, and they are especially important for people with altered immune systems.