Preventing skin infections

Skin infections often happen when a cut, scrape or a graze becomes infected through dirt or small stones in the wound. 

Follow the steps below to treat the wound at home and prevent an infection:

  1. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and dry them thoroughly before and after touching the wound.
  2. Wash the wound area gently with tap water.
  3. If you can clean the wound, cover it afterwards with a sticking plaster or dressing to keep it cleanAvoid bandages that might stick to the wound. 
  4. If you can’t remove the dirt by washing out the wound, you’ll need to take your child to the doctor.
Caring for your child's skin condition

Ministry of Health

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The Government's principal advisor on health and disability: improving, promoting and protecting the health of New Zealanders.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a serious skin infection that requires antibiotics to heal. It can start when your child’s skin is broken from a sore, insect bite, boil, rash, cut, burn or graze. The infection can spread further into the body.  

Your child may have cellulitis if:

  • they have increasing pain near the wound
  • they have swelling and redness  
  • the red area keeps growing  you can gently mark the edge of the infected red area with a pen to see if it grows larger 
  • there is pus coming out of the wound
  • the wound feels warm
  • they have a fever
  • they're generally feeling unwell.

Call PlunketLine or see your doctor immediately if you think your child has cellulitis.  

Boils

A boil is an infection that often starts deep in the skin where a hair grows. It looks like red lump or pimple with red skin around it. Sometimes there will be white or yellow pus in the center and it may be itchy or painful.  

Treatment 

Usually, one or two small boils can be treated at home by following the steps below:

  1. Check and clean your child’s boils every day.
  2. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and dry them thoroughly before and after touching the boil.
  3. Soak the boil in a warm bath, or put a towel soaked in warm water on it for 20 minutes.
  4. If the boil bursts, wipe away any liquids with clean cloth soaked in water and antiseptic. 
  5. Wash cloths and towels with a hot water wash after each use.
  6. Change your child’s clothes every day and wash any clothes that have been next to their skin with a hot water wash.
  7. Boils are infectious and can be easily spread, so check if any of your whānau has boils. If so, you need to see your doctor so the family can be treated.

When to visit a doctor 

Visit your doctor if:

  • the boil
    • is near or on the eye 
    • is larger than a 10-cent coin 
    • doesn’t go away after one week 
    • is very painful 
    • has red streaks that appear on the skin around it 
  • your child seems unwell or has a fever
  • someone else in your whānau has boils too. 

Staphylococcal infections (Staph)

Staphylococcal infections, also known as Staph, is a common type of bacterial skin infection that can become serious. 

Causes

Staph infections can develop:

  • after a cut or scratch
  • if your child has dry skin or eczema
  • when a normal part of your child's skin bacteria gets out of control.

Symptoms

Your child may have a staph infection if they have: 

  • skin that looks red and shiny and may have blisters, a bit like a burn or scold 
  • swelling around any cuts or other wounds 
  • a wound that fails to completely heal 
  • a fever
  • redness and heat around the wound 
  • yellow-coloured crusting (scabs) and weeping 
  • itchiness - staph infections can be very itchy.  

If you suspect that your little one has a staph infection, take them to the doctor right away.

Treatment

Your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics if it is a staph infection. It’s very important for your child to finish the whole course of the antibiotics prescribed, even if they are feeling better and the infection is improving. 

Septic spots

These are white or yellow pus-filled spots. They can occur anywhere but are common around the nappy area or in neck, arm or leg creases. They look like small blisters and the skin around them may be red and weepy.  

Treatment 

Antibiotics may be needed to clear the infection and stop it from spreading. Talk to your Plunket nurse, other Well Child provider, or doctor if you notice these spots on your child. 

Bleach baths

How to give your child a bleach bath

  1. Fill your bath or tub with warm water.
    • Full-sized bath filled 10cm deep holds about 80 litres of water 
    • Baby bath holds about 15 litres of water 
  2. Check on the bleach bottle how much bleach is in the product and add the right amount to the bath and mix well.
    • For a 4.2% bleach product, add 1 ml for every litre of water  
    • For a 3.1% bleach product, add 1.3 mls for every litre of water 
    • For a 2.1% bleach product, add 2 mls for every litre of water 
  3. Soak in the bath for 10 - 15 minutes then wash with non-soap cream.
  4. Hold or get your child to stand up in the bath and rinse their skin off with clean tap water.
  5. Gently pat (don’t rub) your child’s skin dry with a towel. Make sure it’s a fresh towel and don’t share towels with other whānau.
  6. Gently smooth on (don’t rub) any steroid and/or moisturiser creams. 

Commercial bleach products vary, so call PlunketLine or your doctor if you aren’t sure about how much bleach to use, oif you have questions. 

Need free support or advice?

Call PlunketLine 24/7 on 0800 933 922