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Bacterial vs Viral Skin Infections: What’s the Difference?

It’s hard for someone off the street to be able to diagnose the difference between bacterial and viral skin infections. Many skin infections can cause redness, tenderness, or pain in the infected area. So how do you know what type of skin infection you have, and how do you treat it?

We’re covering some of the most frequently asked questions about different types of infections so that you know when it’s time to visit your dermatologist.    

What is a bacterial skin infection?

Normally, the human body has bacteria on the skin. Unfortunately, when there is a tear or cut in the skin, bacteria have the opportunity to enter the body, wreaking havoc (this is another important reason to wash your hands frequently.) Cellulitis is one of the most prevalent bacterial skin infections, and it can occur around areas of the body that have skin openings, such as wound sites, incisions, cuts, and so on. 

What is a viral skin infection?

Viral skin infections differ from bacterial skin infections in that they can be in response to a virus that’s already in the body or an infection of the skin itself. You might be familiar with viral skin infections such as chicken pox, warts, or measles. 

What are the causes or risk factors of bacterial and viral skin infections?

With bacterial skin infections, we already know that bacteria can enter the body through a cut, a wound, or a tear in the skin. With viral skin infections, there are certain infections that you can catch by simply touching another person with the virus, such as chicken pox or cold sores. 

Risk factors for catching a bacterial or viral skin infection are:

  1. Not washing your hands frequently
  2. Being exposed to others who already have a viral skin infection
  3. Not taking immediate action to clean an area on the body that has a cut, a wound, or a tear in the skin. These are places where bacteria can rapidly enter and cause infection.

How are bacterial and viral skin infections treated?

Sometimes, viral conditions will get well on their own over time. But bacterial skin infections may require some type of topical or oral antibiotic to make them go away. But if you start seeing any of these symptoms, no more home remedies – see your dermatologist fast:

  1. Fever
  2. Expanding redness and warmth and pain around a wound
  3. If you have diabetes. Often, people with diabetes have a more difficult time treating skin infections, and you should take special care treating a diabetic patient with a skin infection.
  4. Lesions that develop into blisters that break open and ooze fluid 
  5. A bump on the skin filled with pus

What are the best ways of avoiding bacterial and viral skin infections in the first place?

  1. Wash your hands properly and often.
  2. Sanitize frequently any equipment, furniture, or doors you’re going to come into frequent contact with. 
  3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth – this can spread bacteria into areas of your body that are “open.”
  4. Make sure to take special care in cleaning any areas of the house where moisture is regularly present (laundry rooms, showers, faucets, etc.)

You’ll find that some fundamental hygiene rules we should already be following will keep the germs and subsequent infections away from you and your family. Have your children use common sense – don’t share deodorants, towels, or washcloths in the locker room, don’t pick at bug bites, etc. With bacterial and viral skin infections, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Let Us Treat You at the Center for Surgical Dermatology 

Center of Surgical Dermatology is the largest medical and surgical skin treatment and wellness facility in Central Ohio. Since 2007, our board-certified dermatologists, fellowship-trained Mohs surgeons, and caring professional staff have provided patients with effective skincare treatments they can trust in an environment second to none. Learn more about our state-of-the-art Dermatology Center before booking your appointment today.

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