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Furunculosis and Carbunculosis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 6, 2023.

What are furunculosis and carbunculosis?

Furunculosis and carbunculosis are skin infections that form lumps and pus, called furuncles and carbuncles. A furuncle (abscess) forms when a hair follicle and the skin surrounding it become infected. A carbuncle is made up of multiple furuncles, and goes much deeper into the skin. Furuncles and carbuncles are usually caused by bacteria.

What increases my risk for furunculosis and carbunculosis?

  • Contact with someone who has furunculosis or carbunculosis
  • Medicines, such as steroids or cancer medicine
  • Poor hygiene, including not washing your hands or clothes properly
  • Weak immune system caused by diabetes, cancer, blood disease, or poor nutrition
  • Skin conditions, such as dermatitis, scabies, or eczema

What are the signs and symptoms of furunculosis and carbunculosis?

  • A furuncle usually starts as a small, firm, red lump under the skin. The lump usually appears in the neck, face, armpits, thighs, or buttocks. It may become painful, swollen, and full of pus.
  • A carbuncle usually occurs on the back of the neck or side of the thigh. It is a group of small, shallow abscesses that connect with each other under the skin. A carbuncle may easily open, drain pus, and form an ulcer on the skin. The skin then slowly heals and a deep scar may develop. You may also have other symptoms, such as fever, chills, fatigue, or pain.

How are furunculosis and carbunculosis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your skin. He or she may ask if you have other health conditions or if you have had furunculosis or carbunculosis before. You may also need the following:

  • A sample of fluid from one of your sores may show which bacteria is causing your infection.
  • Blood or urine tests may show infection.

How are furunculosis and carbunculosis treated?

  • A warm compress can decrease pain and swelling. It may also help drain pus and speed up healing. Apply a moist, warm compress for 30 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day or as directed.
  • Bandages with medicine on them can help heal your wound. Place the bandages over the wound as directed. Ask how often to change the bandages.
  • Incision and drainage is a procedure to drain the fluid or pus that has collected in the infected area.
  • Medicines:
    • Antibiotics help treat the bacterial infection.
    • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
    • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.

How can I help prevent the spread of furunculosis and carbunculosis?

  • Keep your skin clean. Wash your skin and hair every day. Wash your hands often. Use soap and water. Use germ-killing hand lotion or gel if soap and water are not available.
  • Apply lotion or moisturizing creams to your skin regularly. Stop using them if they sting or irritate your skin.
  • Avoid contact with other people's wounds. Keep any wounds clean and covered with clean, dry bandages until they heal. Place used bandages in a sealed plastic bag when you throw them away.
  • Do not share personal items. Use your own towel, soap, clothes, and other personal items. Do not share these items with others.
  • Wash laundry correctly. Keep an infected person's laundry in a plastic bag until it is washed. Wash with detergent and hot water. Dry the items on the hot setting.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a fast heartbeat or chest pain.
  • You have sudden trouble breathing.
  • Your symptoms do not improve or are getting worse.
  • Your wound has pus coming out or has a foul smell.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have chills or a cough, or feel weak and achy.
  • You have increased pain, redness, or swelling around the infected area.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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