Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin. It usually causes the skin to be swollen, red, hot and tender.
- It can quickly spread from the part of the body where it started (e.g., into the leg from one's foot).
- In some cases, the bacteria can spread into the blood stream.
- However, it does not typically spread from person to person.
Cellulitis can develop anywhere on the body, but the lower part of the legs are affected more often than other areas.
- The infection may involve only the top layer of the skin.
- In more severe cases, the tissue under the skin can become infected. This can result in the tissue being destroyed.
- It can also lead to an increased risk of the bacteria spreading into the blood stream.
The skin normally provides protection against bacteria. However, when the protective layer of skin is “broken,” bacteria can enter and multiply. This is especially true if you have:
- An injury, such as a surgical incision, cut, broken bone, burn, bite or scratch
- A weak immune system caused by a medical condition, such as diabetes, leukemia and other forms of cancer and HIV, or the use of certain medications
- Any skin problem that causes breaks in the skin
- Long-term swelling of arms or legs
- History of cellulitis
- Intravenous drug use
- Vein problems (also called “incompetence”) of the legs
Some of the signs and symptoms of cellulitis include:
- Skin that is swollen, red, warm and tender
- Blotchy red spots or blisters
- Dimpling of the skin
In most cases, the skin changes occur on one side of the body.
- Rarely, the bacteria can infect deep tissue, which is considered a medical emergency.
- An example of this is the so-called “flesh-eating” infection called necrotizing fasciitis.
- Necrotizing fasciitis is a serious and possibly fatal strep infection.
If you have symptoms of cellulitis, contact your healthcare provider. He or she will do a physical examination and ask questions about your medical history to determine the best course of treatment.
This care path includes the costs for inpatient evaluation and treatment of cellulitis, which may include antibiotics and dressing changes.
If you have signs of a skin infection, contact your healthcare provider.
- If possible, have documentation of your medical history (past illnesses, surgeries and hospitalizations) and your medications (including over-the-counter).
- If you are hospitalized, before you are discharged you should know your diagnosis, what tests you had, and what medications you were given.
- Upon discharge, make sure you understand your treatment plan and what medications are ordered (including possible side effects).
- If your healthcare provider prescribes a medication for you to take at home, ask for a generic version. If your doctor thinks that a generic version is not right for you, ask for a medication on the lowest available tier of your Prescription Drug List (PDL).
What should I ask my healthcare provider about my condition?
- What are my treatment options?
- How serious is my infection?
- Do I have to be hospitalized? For how long?
- Do I need to take any medications? How long will I have to take the medication?
- Do I need to restrict any of my activities?
- How should I monitor my infection?
- What can I do to decrease my chances of future infections?