Are Abscesses Contagious?

You develop an abscess when your immune system isolates an infected area to keep the infection from spreading. Your immune system does it by sending leukocytes – specialized white blood cells – to the infected area. These cells fight and destroy infectious microorganisms such as parasites, bacteria, and viruses. The clash between the bacteria and white blood cells leads to the formation of pus within the involved tissue. A wall of tissue develops around the infection site with time and this wall forms an abscess. Since an abscess is swollen with puss, this makes many people wonder if it's contagious. Let's find out.

Are Abscesses Contagious?

A growing abscess is usually red and warm to the touch. It contains puss but it is not contagious. However, you need to understand that you develop an abscess because of a type of bacterial infection, and these bacteria can spread from person to person and cause different type of infections. You should wash your hand if you touch a boil that is draining pus – you should also wash your towels or clothes that may have touched a draining or open carbuncle or boil.

You develop an abscess usually because you are infected with staphylococcal bacteria, but fungal, viral, and parasitic infections can also cause abscesses. Here is more about different types of abscesses to help you find an answer to, "Are abscesses contagious?"

  • Skin Abscesses: You develop an abscess when bacteria get under the surface of your skin. This type of abscess can develop anywhere on the body, including the trunk, hands, underarms, feet, buttocks, and genitals. You may develop an abscess when you have a skin wound which allows the bacteria to get into your skin. You may also develop it because of a blocked sebaceous gland in your skin.
  • Internal Abscesses: You may develop abscesses inside the tummy mainly due to an infection that reaches deep tissues in your body. This may happen due to an abdominal surgery, an injury, or an infection spreading from a nearby area.

Increased Risk

You are at an increased risk of developing abscesses if:

  • You have a weak immune system due to HIV or chemotherapy
  • You have diabetes
  • You have hidradenitis suppurativa or another underlying inflammatory condition
  • You have an infection caused by staphylococcal bacteria

How to Deal with Abscess If You Have It

Are abscesses contagious? No, an abscess is not contagious in itself, but the bacteria causing the infection can infect other people. This is certainly reason to look for ways to deal with your abscesses.

Self Care at Home

  • Apply warm compresses to the affected area for about half an hour 4 times a day in case the size of the abscess is less than 1cm.
  • Never press on the abscess – squeezing it may make your infection worse.
  • Never try to stick a needle or something similar into the abscess center because it may damage a blood vessel and spread the infection.

Seek Medical Care

You should go see your doctor if:

  • Your abscess is larger than a centimeter in size.
  • Your sore becomes more painful with time.
  • Your sore is near or on your groin or rectal area.
  • You have a high fever (101.5F or higher).
  • You notice a red streak going away from the affected area.

You should seek immediate medical attention if you have a high fever and have a chronic disease as well. People on dialysis or chemotherapy need immediate attention when they develop abscesses. It is also important to seek medical attention when the abscess also makes lymph nodes in the affected area to swell.

Incision and Drainage

You will require a small surgery in case your skin abscess requires draining. The surgery is carried out under a local anesthetic – the affected area is usually numbed but you remain awake throughout the procedure. Here is the procedure:

  • The surgeon makes an incision in the abscess and let the pus come out – a sample of pus may as well be collected for further testing.
  • After removing the pus, the surgeon cleans the affected area using a salt solution.
  • The surgeon will leave the abscess open but cover it with a normal wound dressing. This helps remove any pus that may be produced. An antiseptic dressing is usually required in case the abscess is deep.
  • There may be a small scar at the site of the abscess.

How to Prevent Abscesses

Are abscesses contagious? They are not, but a skin abscess can lead to complications when left untreated. To avoid dealing with any discomfort, it is better to take steps to avoid an abscess from forming in the first place. For this, you should treat cuts and scrapes without any delay. Here is what to do:

  • Be sure to practice appropriate hygiene. Wash areas with any open wounds with soap and water to avoid infections. Always use a towel to pat dry the area.
  • Always clean scrapes, cuts, and abrasions. Then, bandage the affected area to keep out any debris. Using an antibacterial ointment before covering it with bandage will also help prevent infections and abscesses.

Take steps to maintain good health because you are more likely to develop abscesses, boils, and carbuncles if your immune system is not fully functional. Similarly, people who have diabetes should take special care of any cuts they get because they may not experience pain due to nerve damage. Treating these wounds early can prevent several complications.

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