But It Was Only A Small Boil...

Cellulitis is an inflammation of the skin and tissues under the skin which can be caused by a bacterial infection.  Beginning as a small area which is tender, swollen and red, it often occurs where the skin has been broken previously: a cut, burn, blister or insect bite.  As the area begins to enlarge, the individual may develop a fever and swollen lymph nodes near the area of the inflammation. 

The main bacteria involved in cellulitis are staphylococcus, or staph, and Group A streptococcus bacteria, which are part of the normal flora of the skin but cause no infection until skin is broken. There are several conditions which can be precursors for cellulitis, including those above, animal bites, tattoos, surgery, athlete's foot, eczema, drug injection sites or missed IV injections and boils.

Who Gets Cellulitis and How Do I Know I Have It?

While cellulitis can occur anywhere on the body, it is found most predominantly on the legs.  Other frequent sites are the arms, head and neck areas.  Symptoms of cellulitis on the leg can mimic the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, with warmth, pain and swelling.  It is advised to visit a physician who can run the necessary tests and properly diagnose the situation.

There are certain segments of the population who are more susceptible to cellulitis, especially those with a weakened immune system.  Diabetics, HIV/AIDS sufferers, and those with diseases that affect blood circulation in the legs, such as varicose veins, are also at risk.  Cellulitis is also prevalent in dense populations sharing common living and hygiene areas, such as military installations.  Cellulitis is a common problem for recruits going through boot camp.  Cellulitis is not contagious because it is an infection of the deep layers of the skin, and the top layers of skin provide cover for the infection.


To treat cellulitis, the physician must determine whether or not there is an infection causing the inflammation.  Blood work and sometimes cultures are taken.  Cultures may not indicate the necessary information as the concentration of bacteria may not be high enough to prove the existence of the infection.  Most frequently, because it is sometimes very difficult to tell if the inflammation is due to an infection, the doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics, just to be sure.  In all situations, the doctor chooses the treatment based upon what is discovered and then relief will not be far away.