Skin is one of the most amazing organs in the human body. While it is often hard for us to think about skin as an organ, it is in fact a key one. Skin covers and protects everything inside the body, helps to maintain the correct temperature and enables us to have the sense of touch. Skin also protects the body against infections.

However, the skin itself may become infected, which can lead to serious health problems. The term ‘serious skin infections’ includes a number of conditions such as cellulitis, impetigo and abscesses. Skin infections are a significant cause of avoidable hospitalisations throughout New Zealand.

How to keep skin healthy

Expand accordion

Skin infections are preventable. To keep your skin healthy:

  • Wash and dry hands with soap and water often
  • Keep skin clean
  • Wear clean clothes
  • Clean and Cover cuts and sores with plasters
  • Care for other skin conditions e.g. eczema – use your creams and lotions
  • Wash sheets and towels regularly
  • Eat healthy food. Healthy food is important for healthy skin
  • Skin infections often start with an insect bite
  • Treat animals for fleas regularly

If left untreated skin infections can lead to serious health problems. Serious skin infections are a major cause of avoidable hospitalisations in New Zealand.  Families/whānau/individuals should be advised to seek medical attention if a sore or area of redness has any of the following features:

  • Is greater than the size of a ten cent coin (approximately 1.5cm)
  • Increasing size
  • Has pus
  • Has red streaks coming from it
  • Is not getting better within two days
  • Is located close to the eye

What are serious skin infections?

Expand accordion

The term ‘serious skin infections’ includes a number of conditions such as cellulitis, impetigo and abscesses of the skin and subcutaneous tissue.

  • Cellulitis  is an acute bacterial infection of the soft tissues of the skin. The infection spreads causing the skin and layers underneath to become red, swollen and tender.
  • Impetigo  (or school sores) is characterised by small infectious blisters, which later develop a honey coloured scab like crust.
  • An abscess is a cavity containing pus which may also have surrounding cellulitis of the skin and tissue, all of which are largely caused by germs (bacteria).

If left untreated, skin infections can lead to serious health problems.  These infections can affect the blood, kidneys, bones, joints, lymph nodes and brain resulting in people needing to be hospitalised for treatment.  This is preventable, provided skin infections are acted on early enough.

For further information about serious skin conditions, visit Kidshealth.