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    Carbuncle

    Skin infection - staphylococcal; Infection - skin - staph; Staph skin infection; Carbunculosis

    A carbuncle is a skin infection that often involves a group of hair follicles. The infected material forms a lump, which occurs deep in the skin and may contain pus.

    When there is more than one carbuncle, the condition is called carbunculosis.

    Causes

    Most carbuncles are caused by the bacteria staphylococcus aureus. The infection is contagious. This means itcanspread to other areas of the body or other people.

    A carbuncle is made up of several skin boils (furuncles). The infected mass is filled with fluid, pus, and dead tissue. Fluid may drain out of the carbuncle, but sometimes the mass is so deep that it cannot drain on its own.

    Carbunclescan develop anywhere. But they are most common on the back and the nape of the neck. Men get carbuncles more often than women.

    Because the bacteria that causes the condition is contagious, family members may develop carbuncles at the same time. Often, the cause of a carbuncle cannot be determined.

    You are more likely to get a carbuncle if you have:

    • Friction from clothing or shaving
    • Poor hygiene
    • Poor overall health

    Persons with diabetes, dermatitis, and weakened immune systems are more likely to develop staph infections that can cause carbuncles.

    Symptoms

    A carbuncle is a swollen lump or mass under the skin. It may be the size of a pea or as large as a golf ball. The carbuncle may be red and irritated and might hurt when you touch it.

    It may also:

    • Grow very fast
    • Have a white or yellow center (contain pus)
    • Weep, ooze, or crust
    • Spread to other skin areas

    Sometimes, other symptoms may occur. These may include:

    • Fatigue
    • Fever
    • General discomfort or sick feeling
    • Skin itching before the carbuncle develops

    Exams and Tests

    Your doctor will look at your skin. The diagnosis is based on what the skin looks like. A sample of the pus may sent to a lab to determine the bacteria causing the infection (bacterial culture).The test result helps your doctor determine the appropriate treatment.

    Treatment

    Carbuncles usually must drain before they will heal. This most often occurs on its own in less than 2 weeks.

    Placing a warm moist cloth on the carbuncle helps it to drain, which speeds healing.Apply a clean, warmmoist cloth several times each day. Never squeeze a boil ortry to cut it open at home, because this can spread the infection and make it worse.

    Youneed to seek treatment if the carbuncle lasts longer than 2 weeks, returns frequently, is located on the spine or the middle of the face, or occurs along with a fever or other symptoms. Treatment helps reduce complications related to an infection.

    Your doctor may prescribe:

    • Antibacterial soaps
    • Antibiotics applied to the skin or taken by mouth

    Deep or large lesions may need to be drained by a health care provider.

    Proper hygiene is very important to prevent the spread of infection.

    • Wash your handsthoroughly with soap and warm water after touching a carbuncle.
    • Do not re-use or share washcloths or towels. This can cause the infection to spread.
    • Clothing, washcloths, towels, and sheets or other items that contact infected areas should be washed in very hot (preferably boiling) water.
    • Bandages should be changed often and thrown away in a bag that can be tightly closed.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    Carbuncles may heal on their own. Others usually respond well to treatment.A carbuncle can return again and again for months or years following the first infection.

    Possible Complications

    • Abscess of the brain, skin, spinal cord, or organs such as the kidneys
    • Endocarditis
    • Osteomyelitis
    • Permanent scarring of the skin
    • Sepsis
    • Spread of infection to other areas

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if:

    • A carbuncles does not heal with home treatment within 2 weeks
    • Carbuncles come back often
    • A carbuncle is located on the face or spine
    • You have a fever, red streaks running from the sore, a lot of swelling around the carbuncle, or pain that gets worse

    Prevention

    Good general health and hygiene may help prevent some staph skin infections. Such infections are contagious, so care must be taken to avoid spreading the bacteria to other people.

    If you get carbuncles often, your doctor may give you antibiotics to prevent them.

    References

    Millett CR, Halpern AV, Reboli AC, Heymann WR. Bacterial diseases. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 74.

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    • Skin layers

      illustration

      • Skin layers

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      Review Date: 5/15/2013

      Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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