What are Viral Skin Infections?

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  • Written By: Susan Grindstaff
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2018
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Some of the most common types of viral skin infections include eczema, fifths disease, and herpes simplex, or cold sores. In addition, warts, rosea, and shingles are all believed to be viruses that attack the skin. Most of these infections are not considered serious, but they can nonetheless become debilitating and chronic if they are left untreated. Treatment for these infections usually involves anti-viral medications such as acyclovir, and some viral skin infections respond to topical ointments that contain steroids. Some types of viral skin infections such as warts and cold sores will often clear up without treatment.

Some of the more serious and sometimes fatal types of viral skin infections are much more rare, thanks largely to medical research. Immunizations have been created to help stop the spread of viral skin infections such as measles, chicken pox, and smallpox. In most countries, these vaccines are given to children before they attend school, with follow-up booster shots being administered every few years if necessary. Most of the time, when a child has reached her teens, she has completed a full immunization program, which typically protects her from these more serious viral skin infections.


Many viral skin infections are contagious, and can be spread by contact with the skin, clothing, or bodily fluids of someone already infected. The virus usually enters the bloodstream through a scratch or wound, though in some cases, viral skin infections can be transferred by other methods. Once inside the bloodstream, these viruses attach themselves to the DNA of the host, where they tend to multiply and spread.

Viruses typically go through various stages of development once they enter the bloodstream. First, they locate and bond with receptors in cell membranes, after which they penetrate the interior of the cell. Once cell penetration occurs, the virus has access to the host's DNA. At this point the virus either grows and spreads, or in some cases, it may lay dormant for months or years. Most of the time, dormant viruses eventually become active infections, though in some cases, they may remain dormant for life.

Viral infections do not usually respond to antibiotics, but in some instances, complications that result from viruses are treated with penicillin and tetracycline. In many cases, physicians choose to treat the symptoms of the virus, while letting the virus run its course. In these instances, anti-itching and anti-inflammatory medications are often prescribed, along with salves designed to dry out pus and drainage.



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