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First Aid: Skin Infections

Skin abscesses or boils (a collection of pus in the skin) and cellulitis (bacterial infection of the deeper layers of the skin and tissues beneath) are typical childhood skin infections. The usual bacterial culprits in skin infections are strep or staph, and both require medical treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

Of an abscess:

  • area of swelling under the skin
  • starts out small and grows bigger gradually
  • skin over abscess is warm and red
  • painful to the touch
  • may have yellow drainage

Of cellulitis:

  • a red, inflamed area on the skin that is tender to the touch
  • may occur in an area of a scratch or cut
  • redness often spreads rapidly over the skin's surface
  • fever
  • a feeling of general sickness
  • swollen glands nearby

What to Do

Seek Medical Care

If Your Child:

  • has an apparent skin infection that is getting larger
  • feels sick or has fever or chills
  • has red streaks near the infected area

Think Prevention!

  • Wash hands well and often, especially after touching infected areas.
  • Clean cuts and scrapes with soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover with a bandage.
  • Don't share towels, washcloths, razors, or athletic equipment.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014