Cellulitis (sel-yuh-LY-tus) is a skin infection that involves areas of tissue below
the surface of the skin.
Cellulitis can affect any area of the body, but it's most common on exposed body
parts, such as the face, arms, or lower legs.
What Causes Cellulitis?
Many different types of
can cause cellulitis. The most common ones are group A streptococcus
and Staphylococcus aureus.
Cellulitis usually begins in an area of broken skin, like a cut, bite, or scratch.
People who have body piercings can get cellulitis because the piercing hole is a way
for bacteria to get beneath the skin's surface.
But cellulitis can also start in areas where the skin isn't broken, especially
in people who have
conditions or who take medicines that affect the immune
Cellulitis is not contagious. It can't spread from person to person.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Cellulitis?
Cellulitis begins with a small area of skin that's:
As this area begins to spread, a child may begin to feel ill and get a fever
and, sometimes, chills and sweats. Swollen lymph nodes (or swollen glands) are sometimes
found near the area of infected skin.
The time it takes for symptoms to start varies, depending on which bacteria cause
the cellulitis. For example, a child with cellulitis caused by Pasteurella multocida,
often found in animal
bites, can have symptoms less than 24 hours after the bite. But cellulitis caused
by other types of bacteria may not cause symptoms for several days.
How Is Cellulitis Diagnosed?
A doctor can usually diagnose cellulitis by examining the area of affected skin.
Sometimes the doctor may check for bacteria by taking blood samples. Positive blood
cultures mean that bacteria from the skin infection have spread into the bloodstream.
This can cause septicemia (blood poisoning), a serious infection.
How Is Cellulitis Treated?
For a mild case of cellulitis, doctors prescribe antibiotics. These can usually
cure cellulitis in 7 to 10 days. Even if your child feels better sooner than that,
it's important to take all the antibiotics prescribed. Otherwise, the infection can
People with severe cases of cellulitis might need treatment in a hospital with
intravenous (IV) antibiotics.
Can Cellulitis Be Prevented?
To prevent cellulitis, protect skin from cuts,
bruises, and scrapes. This isn't easy, especially in active kids or those who play
Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts while hiking in the woods (this can also
protect them from bug
bites and stings).
Wear sandals on the beach.
When kids do get a cut
or scrape, wash it well with soap and water. Apply an antibiotic ointment and
cover the wound with an adhesive bandage or gauze. Check wounds often for the first
few days to see if any signs of cellulitis begin.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call your doctor if:
Any area of your child's skin becomes red, warm, and painful — with or without
fever and chills. This is even more important if the area is on the hands, feet, or
face, or if your child has an illness or condition that suppresses the immune system.
Your child gets a large cut or a deep puncture wound.
An animal bites your child, especially if the puncture wound is deep. Cellulitis
can happen quickly after an animal bite. Human bites can cause skin infections too,
so call the doctor if this happens.
What Can Parents Do?
Make sure your child takes the antibiotics exactly as directed and for the full
Follow the doctor's suggestions for treating the area of cellulitis, such as elevating
the affected part of the body or applying heat or warm soaks to it.
You can give over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen
or ibuprofen to ease
pain and keep a fever down. Follow the package directions about how much to give and
how often to give it.
After your child takes antibiotics for 1 or 2 days, the doctor may schedule an
office visit to check that the area of cellulitis has improved. This means that the
antibiotics are working against the infection.