Boils (or furuncles): is a skin disease caused by the inflammation of hair follicles, resulting in the localized accumulation of pus and dead tissues. Individual boils can cluster together and form an interconnected network of boils. This cluster is called carbuncles. In severe cases, boils may develop to form an abscess.
Boils are usually caused by an infection of the hair follicles by Staphylococcus aureus (or staph). Staph is a strain of bacteria that typically resides on the surface of your skin. The medical community believes that a very small cut in the skin allows the staph to enter the follicles and cause an infection.
Abscess: An abscess is a pool of pus that has accumulated in a cavity formed by tissue by bacteria, parasites, or other materials like splinters or bullets. It is the body's response to prevent the spread of the infection to other parts of the body. The organisms that gain access to the tissue kill off the local cells releasing toxins and triggering an inflammatory response. Symptoms of an abscess include: heat, redness, swelling, and pain. Abscesses usually occur on the skin's surface (boils) but can also infect the lungs, brain, kidneys and tonsils. Gangrene is the complication that occurs when the abscess material is spread to other tissues. Prompt medical attention is indicated when an abscess is suspected since the body can rarely heal it on its own.
Staph Infection: The most common cause of staph infections is a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus which frequently lives on your skin or in your nose. It can cause a range of illnesses like acne, boils and abscesses, to more serious and life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis and Toxic Shock Syndrome.
MRSA Infections: Staph infections which have become resistant to commonly used antibiotic treatments are called methicillin-resistant S. aureus, or MRSA. Since the 1990s, MRSA has become endemic in hospitals. Spread of S. aureus is through human to human contact. Environmental contamination is not considered by the medical community to be an important part of the spread of MRSA!
1/18/2007: Jan from Perth, Australia writes, "Several people have mentioned cures that did not work for their boils - particularly those people who had a number of boils in their armpit, breast or groin area. They may want to check to see if they have Hidradenitis Suppurativa which presents like boils in those areas but is not curable. There is a lot of information about HS on the web and it seems to be often misdiagnosed so it may be worth seeing a dermatologist for a second opinion."