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Expert Q&A

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How can I get rid of boils?

Asked by Tina, Dallas, Texas

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My fiancee and i moved to this area from the Midwest and since being here we have been plagued with boils. Small, big you name it -- on our mid-section, back of knee, thigh, buttock and lower sides. What can we do to get rid of, treat, or keep from getting them? They are painful and quite embarrassing. Please help.

Expert Bio Picture

Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert Answer

Boils are often caused by a bacterial infection, most commonly staph (Staphylococcus aureus). Up to 80 percent of people will have staph bacteria on their skin or in the nose at some point in their life. Most of the time there are no symptoms. This is called being colonized. About 1 percent of people have a special type of staph called methicillin-resistant Staph aureus (or MRSA for short), which is resistant to some antibiotics and may be harder to treat.

Boils are usually caused by the staph bacteria that are colonizing the body, which then enter breaks in the skin and cause redness, swelling, and pus. Here are some basic steps you can take to prevent boils:

• Keep your hands clean. Staph usually lives in the nose, but it's possible to transfer bacteria from your nose to other parts of your body. Use soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs. Also, shower or bathe regularly.

• Keep breaks in your skin clean and covered, and avoid contact with other people's wounds.

• Avoid shaving when possible since nicks in the skin are perfect areas for infections to begin.

• Talk to your doctor about repeated or severe infections. You may be given an antibiotic ointment or oral medication to get rid of the colonizing bacteria. Bathing in a special cleanser may also help kill germs.

• Finally, certain rare medical conditions can affect the immune system and put people at risk for repeated staph infections.

It is useful to remember that staph is primarily spread from person to person. This may be particularly important in your case since people who live together may transfer staph back and forth, causing repeated infections. To prevent spreading skin infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following:

• Keep your skin clean.

• Don't share personal items. This includes towels, clothes, razors and other objects. Also, clean off shared gym equipment after using.

• Cover your wounds to prevent any bacteria from coming into contact with others.

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