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Are Boils Contagious?

Are boils contagious? How do they spread? Can they be spread from person to another during intercourse or in swimming pools? Read on for answers

Are Boils Contagious from one Person to another

Boils occur as a result of an inflammation that occurs around the follicle of your skin causing folliculitis. They are skin infections that are commonly caused by bacteria mostly those known as staphylococcus aureus.

How are boils contagious
Picture of boil-Normal, Infected and Open

Nowadays, and according to research by MRSA Research Center, 1% of all boils are caused by Methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and this number is on the rise. This is a strain of S. aureus that is not susceptible to the penicillin antibiotics including methicillin, amoxicillin and others alike.

Other bacteria can also inhabit and colonize your skin as normal flora and cause boils upon the slightest breach to the skin. It normally occurs when the bacteria finally manage to evade your immune system. You might know much about boils but has it ever occurred to you whether boils can be contagious or not?

This is a question that roams the internet with people trying to prevent this grotesque abscess from affecting or infecting them. Boils usually occur as a lump or pocket with pus within.

Pus basically means that the abscess is infected and the yellow color it assumes owes to the accumulation of white blood cells summoned to attack the pathogen.

WebMD’s answers on whether boils are contagious points out to the fact that boils themselves are not contagious.  What is contagious is the bacteria that causes the boils. This would not necessarily manifest as a boil but as other conditions that the bacteria can cause.

One good example is septic shock, scalded skin syndrome occurring mostly in those below 5 years and tonsillitis that are among other conditions caused by S. aureus. This means that if you were to touch someone’s boils, a boil will not necessarily form on the contact area as the pathophysiology of a boil is complex than mere contact.

You should also put into consideration that there are people who are more susceptible to the infection than others especially those who are immunocompromised due to an ongoing anti-tumor regimen or an incumbent HIV infection.

It is worth noting that a specification that puts an athlete on the hold before any competition is an unhealed skin sore. It is not recommended that they take part while having such skin sores as this could facilitate spread and an outbreak therefore.

How do Boils Spread

Just how does a boil spread?

The controversy still exists as scientists try to fathom whether indeed boils are contagious with this crop arguing it out from both sides of the coin. The answer is, it can spread both within the body of the affected and to another person too. This is why:

Stages of a boil

There is a stage of growth of the bacteria that warrants a high risk of spread. This means that staging is pertinent in determining whether the boil can be contagious or not.

Infiltration stage

This stage forms the first phase of the infection once the infectious agent is introduced. There are signs of inflammation during this stage with accompanying redness, warmth around the area and swelling. The swelling is tender and appears like a hill around a hair follicle (Med Handbook) [1].

Along the lymph ducts, there is increased flow of lymph and blood flow is increased making it ripen day by day with an incessant dull pain. In this stage, the boil is closed and therefore not contagious.

Festering boil

In this stage, there is accumulation of purulent necrotic tissue that forms a plug. An ulcer may form that resembles a corn that occurs on your toes and the skin around is shinier.

At this stage, the infection is at its peak of being contagious. Contact with the boil could rupture it and spread it to your skin and if the ulcer is formed, the risks are higher. At this point, systemic symptoms are evident.


This involves opening the pustules to ulcerate the wound. This is even more infectious as you are now further exposed to the infectious pathogen. This means that it could spread to another point on the skin if the pus is not collected with a cotton wool. It could further spread to another person if protective clothing is not worn.

Breach of skin:

If there is a breach in the skin of another person and the skin gets into contact with an open boil, it will spread.

An unmanaged boil

The boil, if not managed, will be able to spread within the infected individual to become an abscess. It could also develop into a cluster of boils within the same area forming what is known as a carbuncle. It may also go deeper into the skin and form an internal abscess which further complicates the management process.

Systemic spread

Severe infections of a boil can lead to systemic symptoms such as fever. This means that blood would facilitate the transfer of this infectious bug as it is no longer localized.

Can Boils spread sexually?

Whether boils can spread sexually is something that spans all over among those whose partners have a boil. A boil is a total scare especially if it occurs on the female reproductive organ.

As mentioned earlier in this material, the abscess itself is not contagious but the bacteria that causes it can spread from one person to another upon physical contact. Oh yes, this includes sexual intercourse.

The risks of such a spread are further increased when the boil is ruptured and draining pus. This is what you would call an active boil and abscess-containing bacteria could be spread on contact.

However, when you say that a condition can spread sexually, the intention of contact is what makes the difference from common or an accidental contact. Sexual spread is a more specific kind of contact in its sense as it refers to spread during the sex. Therefore, it can spread upon such contact.

Matters would be worse during sex as there is much friction and nudity involved exposing a larger surface area to a boil including increasing the risk of rupturing it.

Therefore, for those who are sexually active, it would be prudent to avoid sex until the boil is completely healed.

How long are boils contagious before they pop

Boils can remain contagious for varying periods of time depending on the person infected. This is influenced by many factors inclusive of the following:

Some staph bacteria are resistant to antibiotics

Ssuch includes the MRSA that is resistant to antibiotics known as penicillins (MRSA Research Center)[2]. Therefore, it depends on whether your boil is due to MRSA or S. aureus. Statistics show that 25% to 30 % of the population in the US is colonized by staph but not MRSA.

In the case of MRSA, treatment with such antibiotics would take long and the boil would therefore remain contagious for long until a susceptibility culture test is performed on the boil’s pus.

The correct antibiotics such as Cotrimoxazole or clindamycin among others would then be prescribed. The duration would be significantly reduced thereafter.

Conducive temperatures

A temperature of 35 °C (or 95°F) is ideal for staph to grow. This means that staph remains contagious for as long as it is present on the skin when provided with such temperatures. It would therefore be contagious in optimal temperatures.

Incubation period

  1. aureus has an incubation period of about 4 – 10 days though there may be variable incubation period for such boils. This period indicates that the boil is not infectious though after this period, skin manifestations make it contagious.

Are boils contagious in swimming pools

This is a limitedly studied question. It is however known that it can spread in swimming pools. Though it is also known that chlorinated swimming pools can be helpful in preventing the spread.

can boils spread swimming pool
Swimming pool

Iit is usually recommended for household members who are at risk of contact with MRSA to go for swimming in chlorinated water for 30 days (Fau[3]quier ENT consultants).

Water is not a primary reservoir of MRSA and therefore unlikely that water could facilitate spread.

According to the CDC, (Facts about MRSA and Swimming Pools)[4], MRSA does not survive long in pols and other treated places used for swimming with chlorine and acidic pH levels.

No reports have been made concerning such spread. However, direct or indirect contact within the survival period of MRSA facilitates its spread.

Indirect spread means sharing a towel, sharp objects or touching hand rails contaminated with MRSA. This would occur when you have an undressed wound.

Ways to Prevent Boils from Spreading

Here are some ways to prevent boils from spreading (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services):

  1. Treat the boil to avoid further spread.
  2. Make sure you cover your wound. This should be practiced by both the infected and the potential victim.
  3. Discard bandages and tape in regular trashes meant for this.
  4. Avoid sharing sharp objects such as razors or nail clippers.
  5. Avoid sharing personal effects such as towels, sheets and washcloths.
  6. Wash your towels with laundry detergent after swimming as this could help eliminate any bacteria on it and dry them completely.
  7. If you have a skin infection, don’t go in recreational water to protect yourself and others.
  8. Don’t let other people touch your bumps or infected areas and do not touch other’s too.


[1] http://med-handbook.com/en/pages/941200

[2] http://mrsa-research-center.bsd.uchicago.edu/patients_families/faq.html

[3] https://www.fauquierent.net/mrsa.htm

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/pdf/swimming/resources/mrsa-factsheet.pdf


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