A boil is an infection of the skin that usually starts around a hair follicle (where a hair grows out of the skin). It can have white or yellow pus in the centre and may be itchy or a bit painful.


A boil is usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Many healthy people have these bacteria on their skin. Boils occur when bacteria get through broken skin and start as a red lump or pimple with red skin around it.

How are boils spread?

Boils are spread by fluid, blood or pus from a boil touching other skin.

Boils are not usually a serious problem, but if the infection spreads you can get sicker and need to see your doctor.

Time off from kura or school

If your child is feeling well they can go to kura or school but keep boils covered with plasters or dressings.


A hard, painful, pimple-like sore that is filled with white or yellow pus.


  • Go to the doctor immediately if a boil is near the eye.
  • Check and clean the boils every day.
  • Soak the boil in a warm bath or put a towel soaked in warm water on the boil for 20 minutes.
  • If the boil bursts, wipe away pus, fluid or blood with clean cotton wool or a cloth soaked in water and antiseptic.
  • Wash cloths and towels after each use.
  • Make sure your child wears clean clothes every day.
  • Wash your hands before and after touching the boil.
  • Check the rest of your family for boils.

What to do if the boil gets worse

A large, deep boil is called an abscess (you say, ab-ses).

Go to the doctor immediately if the boil is near the eye.

Go to the doctor if any of these things happen:

  • the boil is bigger than a 10 cent coin
  • the boil lasts longer than a week
  • the boil is very painful
  • red streaks start to appear on the skin around the boil
  • there are a lot of boils or you have boils regularly
  • if you have a fever.

A doctor might:

  • drain the pus from a boil
  • give you antibiotic tablets or a cream to put on the boil.

It is important to take the antibiotics each day until they are finished, even if the boil has got better. The antibiotics need to keep killing the infection in the body after the skin has healed.

Call Healthline 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do.


You can help prevent boils spreading or developing by:

  • washing your hands regularly
  • eating well
  • bathing or showering regularly
  • keeping any cuts clean.
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