Are Boils Contagious?

Yes, boils are contagious. The mechanism that spreads a boil from person to person, and from one place to another on your skin, is the pus. Within this pus is the bacteria causing the boil, so when the pus spreads, so does the infection.

When another person comes into contact with the pus from someone else's boil, they also come into contact with the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in the pus. Once on their skin, it can cause an infection, especially if the bacteria finds its way into an abrasion on the skin.

When the pus from your boil gets spread on your own skin, so does your boil. It can cause more boils in other areas. When the pus spreads to other areas near the original boil, a carbuncle can form.

That's why it's important to avoid letting the pus get on people or other areas of your skin.

Here are some tips to prevent the spread of boils within an individual and from person to person:

  • When draining a boil, do not let pus get on the skin elsewhere. Prevent this by covering the surrounding skin with something you can dispose of later. Also, thoroughly wash the whole area and wash your hands post-draining.
  • When you have a boil you should shower rather than have a bath. During the bath bacteria from the boil enters the bathwater and it can be transported to other areas of the skin.
  • Do not share towels or washcloths. This generates the spread of bacteria between people.
  • Thoroughly wash contaminated sheets, towels and clothes with anti-bacterial soap
  • Dispose of used bandages carefully
  • Do not squeeze a boil. This may cause bacteria in the boil to be pushed back deeper into the skin and even into the bloodstream. Life-threatening complications can result from bacteria in the bloodstream. The boil will drain on its own if provided with a big enough hole

Boils are more likely to be passed from person to person in settings where many people live in close proximity (like dorms and military barracks) or where there is close physical contact and possible sharing of items between people (family groups). Contact sports (like wrestling and football) also pose a greater risk of the transfer of boils between people. This is in part because of close physical contact and in part because boils tend to form at sites of skin trauma, such as abrasions from minor sports injuries. In these types of environments it's especially important to follow precautions to minimize the spread of infection