Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that typically occurs at sites of scrapes, cuts, or bug bites.
Cellulitis can affect the skin anywhere, but it is most common in areas that are prone to sustaining damage, such as the legs, face, and arms.
Several types of bacteria can cause cellulitis, but those most commonly responsible are Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus. People taking an immune suppressing medication and those with chronic conditions are more likely to develop cellulitis.
Keep reading for more information about the signs, symptoms, and treatment of cellulitis.
Any break in the skin can result in cellulitis. A bug bite or sting that penetrates the skin can allow bacteria living on the surface of the skin to get below it and cause an infection.
Bites from the following insects and others can lead to cellulitis:
As insect bites can be itchy, they can cause people to scratch the area, which can further break the skin. Scratching a bite with unwashed fingernails increases the risk of bacteria getting under the skin.
If the site of a bug bite becomes infected, people may experience the following signs and symptoms:
- tenderness or pain around the bite
- red spots or streaks surrounding the bite
- skin feeling warm
- skin dimples around the bite
Without treatment, cellulitis can get worse. If this occurs, a person may experience:
In many cases, a visual examination of the affected area is enough to diagnose cellulitis. However, a doctor may also want to take a blood sample.
A blood sample can tell the doctor if the infection has entered the bloodstream. If the infection is in the bloodstream, a person may develop sepsis.
Sepsis is a serious, potentially life threatening infectious condition that can be severe enough to harm other parts of the body, including the heart and nervous system.
The treatment for cellulitis usually involves taking antibiotics. The type and severity of the infection will determine how long a person needs to continue taking them. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics based on the location of the infection.
A person should take all prescribed antibiotics without skipping or stopping the doses, even if their symptoms improve earlier.
Warm compresses may help alleviate the swelling on the skin and provide some comfort while a person waits for the antibiotics to take effect.
If the infection is more severe or does not get any better, a person may require hospitalization. Doctors in the hospital will provide intravenous (IV) antibiotics and other care.
A person can take several steps to help reduce their risk of developing cellulitis. Preventative measures include:
- washing the bug bite and keeping it clean
- avoiding scratching the bite or sting
- using an ointment that helps cover and protect the bite
- covering the bite with a bandage
- watching for signs of infection, including swelling, redness, and warmth
- using ice packs to help reduce swelling, itchiness, or pain
- keeping the bite moisturized to help prevent cracking from dryness
- trimming and cleaning the fingernails regularly
People can follow the same steps when they have a cut, scrape, or bruise that could become infected.
Some steps to take to avoid bug bites in the first place include:
- using bug spray when outside
- wearing loose fitting clothes that cover the arms and legs
- using screens around picnic tables and tents to prevent bugs from entering
A person should speak to their doctor if they suspect that they have cellulitis. Early treatment can help prevent complications.
People should seek emergency treatment if they have cellulitis that is spreading and occurs with:
- a fever
- swollen glands
If the condition worsens, a person may need to take stronger antibiotics or stay in the hospital so that healthcare professionals can monitor their treatment.
A person can develop cellulitis from a bug bite or any cut, scrape, or abrasion on the skin. Less commonly, cellulitis might appear on skin that does not have any breaks in it.
Early treatment for cellulitis can help prevent complications. Treatment usually involves taking oral antibiotics.
However, if cellulitis spreads or gets worse, a person may need IV antibiotics or other treatments. Without treatment, cellulitis could cause sepsis, which is a life threatening infection.