Find information on medical topics, symptoms, drugs, procedures, news and more, written for the health care professional.

* This is the Professional Version. *

Overview of Bacterial Skin Infections

by A. Damian Dhar, MD, JD

Bacterial skin infections may be uncomplicated or complicated. Uncomplicated infections usually respond promptly to systemic antibiotics and local wound care. A skin infection is considered complicated when it meets 2 of the following 5 criteria:

  • Involves a preexisting wound or ulceration of the skin

  • Involves the deeper soft tissues

  • Requires surgical intervention

  • Is caused or exacerbated by underlying comorbid disease states (eg, diabetes, systemic immunosuppression)

  • Is unresponsive to conventional antibiotic therapy or is recurrent

All uncomplicated skin infections have the potential to become complicated. Complicated skin and soft-tissue infections may require multidrug therapy and the assistance of other consultants (eg, surgeons, infectious disease specialists), particularly in light of resistance in many strains of bacteria and the rapid loss of efficacy among more potent antibiotics. Recurrent skin infections should raise suspicion of colonization (eg, staphylococcal nasal carriage), resistant strains of bacteria (eg, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA]), cancer, poorly controlled diabetes, or other reasons for immunocompromise (eg, HIV, hepatitis, advanced age, congenital susceptibility). Bacteria are involved in the pathophysiology of acne, but acne is not primarily considered a bacterial skin infection.

* This is a professional Version *