Prevention of Serious Infections
Protect your skin by doing the following:
- Keeping your skin moist with lotions or ointments to prevent cracking
- Wearing shoes that fit well and provide enough room for your feet
- Learning how to trim your nails to avoid harming the skin around them
- Wearing appropriate protective equipment when participating in work or sports
Whenever you have a break in the skin:
- Clean the break carefully with soap and water
- Cover with a bandage and change it every day until a scab forms
- Watch for redness, pain, drainage, or other signs of infection
Bacteria are living things that have only one cell. Under a microscope, they look like balls, rods or spirals. They are so small that a line of 1,000 could fit across a pencil eraser. Most bacteria won't hurt you - less than 1 percent makes people sick. Many are helpful. Some bacteria help to digest food, destroy disease-causing cells and give the body needed vitamins. Bacteria are also used in making healthy foods like yogurt and cheese.
But infectious bacteria can make you ill. They reproduce quickly in your body. Many give off chemicals called toxins, which can damage tissue and make you sick. Examples of bacteria that cause infections include Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and E. coli.
Antibiotics are the usual treatment. When you take antibiotics, follow the directions carefully. Each time you take antibiotics, you increase the chances that bacteria in your body will learn to resist them. Later, you could get or spread an infection that those antibiotics cannot cure.
If you have ever had athlete's foot or a yeast infection, you can blame a fungus. A fungus is actually a primitive vegetable. Mushrooms, mold and mildew are examples. Fungi live in air, in soil, on plants and in water. Some live in the human body. Only about half of all types of fungi are harmful.
Some fungi reproduce through tiny spores in the air. You can inhale the spores or they can land on you. As a result, fungal infections often start in the lungs or on the skin. You are more likely to get a fungal infection if you have a weakened immune system or take antibiotics.
Fungi can be difficult to kill. For skin and nail infections, you can apply medicine directly to the infected area. Oral anti fungal medicines are also available for serious infections.
Valley Fever is a disease caused by a fungus (or mold) called Coccidioides. The fungi live in the soil of dry areas like in Phoenix and the SW U.S. Anyone exposed to the fungus can get the infection. The highest risk is for people whose jobs expose them to soil dust. These include construction workers, agricultural workers, and military forces doing field training. The infection cannot spread from person to person.
Valley Fever is often mild, with no symptoms. If you have symptoms, they may include a flu-like illness, with fever, cough, headache, rash and muscle aches. Most people get better within several weeks or months. A small number of people may develop a chronic lung or widespread infection.
Valley Fever is diagnosed by testing your blood, other body fluids, or tissues. Many people with the acute infection get better without treatment. In some cases, doctors may prescribe anti fungal drugs for acute infections. Severe infections require antifungal drugs.
Tinea is the name of a group of diseases caused by a fungus. Types of tinea include ringworm, athlete's foot and jock itch. These infections are usually not serious, but they can be uncomfortable. You can get them by touching an infected person, from damp surfaces such as shower floors, or even from a pet.
Symptoms depend on the affected area of the body:
- Ringworm is a red skin rash that forms a ring around normal-looking skin. An actual worm does not cause it.
- Scalp ringworm causes itchy, red patches on your head. It can leave bald spots. It usually affects children.
- Athlete's foot causes itching, burning and cracked skin between your toes.
- Jock itch causes an itchy, burning rash in your groin area.
Over-the-counter creams and powders will get rid of many tinea infections, especially athlete's foot and the very annoying for men condition known as groin itch (a.k.a. jock itch). More serious infection cases require prescription drugs.