Bacteria and fungi, which are commonly found on the surface of the skin, protect the body from infection. Cellulitis infection develops when there is a break in the skin through which bacteria can enter the body and penetrate the underlying tissue. In most cases, bacteria are responsible for the infection.
Diabetic foot is the term used when cellulitis occurs in the foot of a person who is diabetic. If the infection affects the area around the eye, it is known as periorbital cellulitis. Necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) is a rare but serious form of cellulitis.
Individuals with diabetes, who abuse alcohol, who are under long-term corticosteroid treatment or who have weak immune systems have a greater risk of developing cellulitis. Newborns and the elderly also have a higher risk.
Several factors can promote a break in the skin's protective barrier, leaving it vulnerable to infectious agents. These may include:
- Cracks in the skin (which is often dry)
- Surgical wounds
The infection spreads quickly, and there is very little time between the moment the infectious agent penetrates the skin barrier and the onset of the first symptoms. The skin becomes red, shiny and tender, and the infection is often accompanied by fever.
Cellulitis most commonly occurs in the legs, arms and face.
If not treated promptly, the infection can evolve into a serious systemic infection or meningitis.
A microbial culture may be performed to determine the agent responsible for the infection. However, since a broad spectrum antibiotic is used to treat the infection, a culture is not always necessary.
Left untreated, cellulitis spreads rapidly. It is therefore important to start antibiotic treatment as soon as possible. If the infection is accompanied by fever, a product such as acetaminophen can be taken.
In some situations, antibiotics are not enough and surgery is required.
A few simple precautions can help prevent cellulitis from developing:
- Wash the skin regularly with gentle soap.
- Carefully and diligently wash cuts and other wounds to prevent them from becoming infected.
- Keep an eye on the progress of wounds.
For more information, do not hesitate to speak to your pharmacist.