Recurrent boils

A boil is an area of skin filled with pus, which makes it sore and swollen. If a child develops a number of boils that come and go over a period of time, they are said to have recurrent boils.

What causes recurrent boils?

Boils are usually caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. Most children who get recurrent boils do not have a problem with their immune system and can fight infections normally. The doctor will ask lots of questions about other infections.

If the child has not had significant problems with other infections, it is very unlikely they have a problem with their immune system.

We all have microorganisms (bacteria, bugs or germs) living harmlessly on our skin and in our intestines (gut). This is called colonisation.

Most children who get recurrent boils are colonised with S. aureus. These bacteria are very good at sticking to skin, and can be carried in the nose or on the skin for a long time. As these bacteria can easily be passed around between members of the family, it is very common for several family members to have boils.

How common are recurrent boils?

Recurrent boils are very common and affect many people at some point in their lives.

How are recurrent boils diagnosed?

The doctor may order some blood tests for reassurance that a child’s immune system is working okay. Children will also have their nose, groin and hairline swabbed to see if they are carrying any bacteria, in particular S. aureus.

How can recurrent boils be treated?

If a child has recurrent boils, they may need to have a course of antibiotics to deal with the infection. If the boils do not respond to the antibiotics, they may need to be drained and removed.

It can be hard to completely remove S. aureus from the body. The following treatment can help, but to make sure it works as well as possible, all members of the family should have this treatment at the same time.

  • Naseptin – a medication taken four times a day for a period of 10 day.s

  • Chlorhexidine shower or bath and hairwash every day for a period of 14 days.

  • Keep a separate towel for each member of the family, change for a clean towel every two days and wash the dirty towels on a hot wash cycle.

Children do not need to miss school if they are colonised with S. aureus. It rarely spreads through schools, but making sure the child does not share their towel with other children after swimming can help.

What is the outlook for children with recurrent boils?

Recurrent boils caused by S. aureus have no long-term effects for children, other than some scarring where the boils developed. It is highly unlikely that the doctor will find any other problems with the child’s immune system, but if they do, doctors will discuss this with parents and provide further information.

Compiled by: 
The Immunology Department in collaboration with the Child and Family Information Group
Last review date: 
July 2012

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