Learn About Carbuncle

What is the definition of Carbuncle?

A carbuncle is a skin infection that often involves a group of hair follicles. The infected material forms a lump, which occurs deep in the skin and often contains pus.

When a person has many carbuncles, the condition is called carbunculosis.

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What are the alternative names for Carbuncle?

Skin infection - staphylococcal; Infection - skin - staph; Staph skin infection; Carbunculosis; Boil

What are the causes of Carbuncle?

Most carbuncles are caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (S aureus).

A carbuncle is a cluster of several skin boils (furuncles). The infected mass is filled with fluid, pus, and dead tissue. Fluid may drain out of the carbuncle, but sometimes the mass is so deep that it cannot drain on its own.

Carbuncles can develop anywhere. But they are most common on the back and the nape of the neck. Men get carbuncles more often than women.

The bacteria that cause this condition spread easily. So, family members may develop carbuncles at the same time. Often, the cause of a carbuncle cannot be determined.

You are more likely to get a carbuncle if you have:

  • Friction from clothing or shaving
  • Poor hygiene
  • Poor overall health

People with diabetes, dermatitis, and a weakened immune system are more likely to develop staph infections that can cause carbuncles.

Staph bacteria are sometimes found in the nose or around the genitals. Carbuncles can recur when antibiotics are not able to treat the bacteria in those areas.

What are the symptoms of Carbuncle?

A carbuncle is a swollen lump or mass under the skin. It may be the size of a pea or as large as a golf ball. The carbuncle may be red and irritated and might hurt when you touch it.

A carbuncle usually:

  • Develops over several days
  • Have a white or yellow center (contains pus)
  • Weep, ooze, or crust
  • Spread to other skin areas

Sometimes, other symptoms may occur. These may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • General discomfort or sick feeling
  • Skin itching before the carbuncle develops
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What are the current treatments for Carbuncle?

Carbuncles usually must drain before they will heal. This most often occurs on its own in less than 2 weeks.

Placing a warm moist cloth on the carbuncle helps it to drain, which speeds healing. Apply a clean, warm moist cloth several times each day. Never squeeze a boil or try to cut it open at home, because this can spread the infection and make it worse.

You need to seek treatment if the carbuncle:

  • Lasts longer than 2 weeks
  • Returns frequently
  • Is located on the spine or the middle of the face
  • Occurs with a fever or other systemic symptoms

Treatment helps reduce complications related to an infection. Your provider may prescribe:

  • Antibacterial soaps
  • Antibiotics applied to the skin or taken by mouth
  • Antibiotic ointment to treat the inside of the nose or around the anus

Deep or large carbuncles may need to be drained by your provider.

Proper hygiene is very important to prevent the spread of infection.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after touching a carbuncle.
  • Do not re-use or share washcloths or towels. This can cause the infection to spread.
  • Clothing, washcloths, towels, and sheets or other items that contact infected areas should be washed often.
  • Bandages should be changed often and thrown away in a bag that can be tightly closed.
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What is the outlook (prognosis) for Carbuncle?

Carbuncles may heal on their own. Others usually respond well to treatment.

What are the possible complications of Carbuncle?

Rare complications of carbuncles include:

  • Abscess of the brain, skin, spinal cord, or organs such as the kidneys
  • Endocarditis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Permanent scarring of the skin
  • Sepsis
  • Spread of infection to other areas
When should I contact a medical professional for Carbuncle?

Call your provider if:

  • A carbuncle does not heal with home treatment within 2 weeks
  • Carbuncles come back often
  • A carbuncle is located on the face or on the skin over the spine
  • You have a fever, red streaks running from the sore, a lot of swelling around the carbuncle, or worsening pain
How do I prevent Carbuncle?

Good general health and hygiene may help prevent some staph skin infections. These infections are contagious, so care must be taken to avoid spreading the bacteria to other people.

If you get carbuncles often, your provider may give you antibiotics to prevent them.

If you are a carrier of S aureus, your provider may give you antibiotics to prevent future infection.

What are the latest Carbuncle Clinical Trials?
Natural History of Anthrax: A Study of Primary Infected, Recovered, and Exposed (SPoRE) Individuals and Evaluation of AVA Vaccinated Recipients

Summary: This study will examine pathophysiology and immune response of anthrax in infected or exposed individuals to learn more about the disease symptoms, prevention and response to treatment. In addition, it will evaluate immune response to the anthrax vaccine AVA (Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed) in healthy, non-infected individuals. The following individuals may be eligible for this study: People with confir...

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A Field Study for the Evaluation of AIGIV Clinical Benefit and Safety in the Treatment of Patients With Inhalational Anthrax in a Broad Exposure Event Scenario

Summary: This study will evaluate safety and clinical benefit of AIGIV used for treatment of patients with inhalational anthrax. This study will be implemented only in the event of a major anthrax exposure event. The study is designed to collect information on safety, clinical benefit (such as extent of anthrax illness and survival) and serum concentrations of AIGIV (for AIGIV pharmacokinetics) and anthrax...

What are the Latest Advances for Carbuncle?
VSD technique combined with Bing Shi Yu Shang Ointment for the treatment of foot skin defects.
Satisfactory response of a back carbuncle to 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) photodynamic therapy: A case report.
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Application of delayed skin-stretching device in treatment of skin and soft tissue defects.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: April 14, 2021
Published By: Elika Hoss, MD, Senior Associate Consultant, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Ambrose G, Berlin D. Incision and drainage. In: Roberts JR, Custalow CB, Thomsen TW, eds. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine and Acute Care. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 37.

Dinulos JGH. Bacterial infections. In: Dinulos JGH, ed. Habif's Clinical Dermatology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 9.

Sommer LL, Reboli AC, Heymann WR. Bacterial diseases. In: Bolognia JL, Schaffer JV, Cerroni L, eds. Dermatology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Limited; 2018:chap 74.