Updated 11 February 2021

What is Cellulitis?

Image of leg with Cellulitis
Cellulitis is quite a common skin infection in Australia. This skin condition is caused by a bacterial infection, predominantly by group A beta-haemolytic streptococcus and staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as golden staph. Cellulitis occurs when bacteria gets on the surface of the skin and also into subcutaneous tissues through abraded or broken skin. Once in the subcutaneous tissues, the bacteria can spread rapidly, and treatment with antibiotics would be needed to control and prevent a further spread of the bacteria causing Cellulitis. While Cellulitis is capable of spreading to all parts of the human body, this skin infection is commonly seen on parts of the skin that are inflamed or damaged in some way. Cellulitis most commonly effects the skin on the lower leg. There are people that are more susceptible to Cellulitis, such as people suffering from poor circulation and diabetes. People who are in the habit of smoking cigarettes are also prone to suffering from this bacteria-induced skin condition.

What are the Symptoms of Cellulitis?

 Cellulitis symptoms may vary depending on the degree of severity of the skin condition. However, the most common symptoms of Cellulitis include:
  • A mild fever characterised by high body temperature,
  • Body warmth,
  • Inflammation of the skin particularly around the site of the infection,
  • Skin redness similar to that caused by an exposure to direct sunlight,
  • A tenderness of the skin around the site of the cellulitis infection,
  • A mild pain in the site of the infection,
  • Pus filled sores, and the
  • Weeping of a yellowish fluid from the sores.

How can you get a Cellulitis Infection?

First of all, it is important to note that the bacteria responsible for Cellulitis infection is all around you and can even be found on the skin. However, the skin condition known as Cellulitis tends to occur when this bacteria gets into inflamed or broken skin. Such inflammation or abrasion to the skin may be caused by some form of trauma to the skin, such as a scrape, cut, burn or even insect bite. Areas of the skin that have been opened up due to a surgical procedure may also be an avenue for the bacteria to get into the skin and spread. Individuals with other skin conditions like acne, scabies, psoriasis, and eczema are also prone to Cellulitis infection. There are even reported cases where the presence of a foreign object (like glass or metal) beneath the surface of the skin can open up the skin to the infection.

Cellulitis Infection Tests & Diagnosis 

Possible testing for Cellulitis may include:
  • A swab test: this is where an open sore on the site of the infection is swabbed with a cotton swab and then the sample is taken to a laboratory for further testing.
  • Blood testing: a blood test will reveal the presence of the bacteria responsible for the infection. High levels of either staphylococcus aureus or group A beta-haemolytic streptococcus in the blood would indicate why a person has a Cellulitis infection.
In addition, a blood test will reveal a person's white blood cell count. If leukocytosis occurs, a condition where a person's white blood cell count is high, then it means that the individual's body is fighting an infection. Another indicator of a Cellulitis infection is where your C-reactive protein or CRP is elevated.
  • Chest X-ray: a chest x-ray becomes necessary in a situation where the infection causes a person to experience pneumonia or heart failure.
  • MRI scan: where necrotising fasciitis is present.
  • Doppler Ultrasound: the Doppler ultrasound helps to check for deep vein thrombosis and/or blood clots.
Cellulitis can also be diagnosed by a physician by a physical examination of the infection and by performing a pustule, crust, or blood culture.
Book A GP

Treatment of Cellulitis Infection 

Before antibiotics were ever developed, Cellulitis was a fatal condition. However, with the development of penicillin, this skin condition can be successfully treated and patients can fully recover from the infection in less than two weeks. Orally administered antibiotics are normally prescribed by physicians to help treat a simple Cellulitis infection without any symptoms of systemic illness. Antibiotic treatment usually lasts for between 5 and 10 days (or until every symptom of the infection has dissipated) and may be administered at home. Apart from taking antibiotics, patients may also be prescribed analgesic medication like ibuprofen or paracetamol to provide relief from aches and pains. While at home, patients should drink a lot of fluids to help with recovery. Some of the antibiotics that may need prescribed by your physician include broad-spectrum antibiotics, such as clavulanic acid and amoxicillin. For patients that are allergic to cephalosporin or penicillin, then antibiotics like doxycycline, clindamycin or vancomycin may be prescribed.

Recovery from Cellulitis Infection

  • Get lots of Rest: when recovering from a Cellulitis infection, it is advisable that the patient gets lots of rest and sound sleep. This will enable the body to properly fight off the infection.
  • Raise Site of Infection: in order to gain relief from the aches and pains associated with Cellulitis infection, as well as to reduce the inflammation and aid drainage, you should raise the site of the infection to as high as you can. If the infection is on your legs, then raising your legs and placing them on the wall is a good idea.
  • Avoid Reinfection: as you recover from Cellulitis, you need to take all precautions to avoid reinfection. Make sure to always wash your hands with soap and clean running water before and after touching abrasions and cuts. Ensure that all wounds are cleaned using a mild antiseptic and cover all wounds using a band aid or a clean gauze dressing.

Complications of Cellulitis Infection

When a Cellulitis infection is severe and spreading rapidly, it may result in a number of complications, such as:
  • Necrotising fasciitis: this is a severe infection of the soft tissue characterised by purpura, a loss of sensation, serious pain, ulceration, skin pallor, and also necrosis.
  • Sepsis: this is blood poisoning caused by a high level of Cellulitis causing bacteria in the blood. Sepsis can result in nausea, malaise, lethargy, a loss of appetite, headaches, and fever. In more severe cases, sepsis can lead to intense diarrhea, hypotension, renal failure, and heart failure.
  • Endocarditis: this is a complication that affects the valve of the heart.
  • Gangrene,
  • Meningitis,
  • Osteomyelitis, and
  • Pneumonia.
Book A GP