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Latest update: 06 January, 2012
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection spread within the skin and tissues under the skin. Staphylococcus and streptococcus are the types of bacteria that are usually responsible for the disease, which however, can also be caused by other types of bacteria. Cellulitis is not contagious and is treated with antibiotics taken orally, or intravenously.

What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin and underlying tissues. Cellulitis usually starts showing up in a small area affected by tenderness, swelling and redness, which spreads to other parts of the skin. When this area begins to expand, the affected person may develop fever, sometimes with chills and sweating, and swollen lymph nodes near the infected skin. Unlike impetigo, an infection of the skin superficially Cellulitis, involves the deeper layers of the skin: the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. The main bacteria responsible for cellulitis are Staphylococcus and Streptococcus, the same bacteria that cause impetigo. Sometimes, even MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) and other bacteria (eg Haemophilus influenzae, pneumococcal, Clostridium) may cause cellulitis.

What are the symptoms of cellulitis?

Cellulitis can occur anywhere in the body, but the leg is the most common site of infection (particularly in the tibia and foot), followed by the arms, then areas of head and neck. In special circumstances, such as after surgery or trauma wounds Cellulitis can develop in areas of the abdomen or chest. People with morbid obesity can develop Cellulitis in the skin of the abdomen. Specific types of cellulite are sometimes designated by the location of infection, such as periorbital cellulitis (around the eye sockets), buccal cellulitis (cheek), facial cellulitis and perianal cellulitis. The symptoms of Cellulitis include redness, inflammation, swelling and pain in the tissues involved. Any skin wound or ulcer that exhibits these symptoms may indicate the development of Cellulitis. Other forms of non-infectious inflammation may be confused for Cellulitis. People with blood circulation in the legs are very active; they often develop scaly redness on the shins and ankles: this is stasis dermatitis and is often mistaken for cellulitis.

What are the risk factors of Cellulitis?

Sometimes Cellulitis appears in areas where the skin is broken, such as near ulcers or surgical wounds. Many time however, it occurs even when there has been no break in the skin, as in the case of chronic leg swelling (edema). A pre-existing skin infection such as athlete's foot (tinea pedis) or impetigo, may a predispose a person to the development of Cellulitis. Similarly, skin inflammatory conditions such as eczema and skin damage caused by radiation therapy may increase the risk of a person of contracting the disease.

Who can be affected by cellulite?

People with diabetes or other diseases that compromise the immune system function (for example, people with HIV or AIDS or those undergoing chemotherapy or drugs that weaken the immune system) are particularly prone to develop Cellulitis. Although Cellulitis can occur in people of any age, is more common in the middle aged and the elderly. Disease that reduces the efficiency of the circulation of blood in the veins or conditions that reduce circulation of lymphatic fluid (such as venous insufficiency, obesity, pregnancy or surgery) may increase the risk of developing Cellulitis.

What are the causes of cellulite?

The majority of infections caused by Cellulitis are caused by the streptococcus (streptococcus) or by staphylococcus (staphylococcus). The most common bacteria that cause Cellulitis are beta-haemolytic streptococci (groups A, B, C, G and F). One form of the disease which is rather superficial, and is caused by strep is called erysipelas, and is characterized by widespread inflammation, from bright red color of the affected skin. Erysipelas is common in young children. The so-called flesh-eating bacteria are a strain of strep that can sometimes rapidly destroy the tissues under the skin. Staphylococcus (Staphylococcus aureus), including methicillin-resistant strain (MRSA), is another common type of bacterium that causes Cellulitis, which however, can be caused by many other types of bacteria. Children under 6 years of age can develop the disease especially on the face, arms and upper torso. Cellulitis caused by a bite of a dog or cat or a scratch can be caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida, which has a very short period of incubation; about 24 hours. The hydrophilic Aeromonas, Vibrio vulnificus, and other bacteria may cause cellulitis to develop after exposure to fresh water or sea water. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is another type of bacterium that can cause Cellulitis, usually after a puncture. Cellulitis is not contagious, because it is an infection of the deeper layers of skin (the dermis and subcutaneous tissue) and the top layer of skin (epidermis) provides a cover over the infection. Also in this case, Cellulitis is a very superficial skin infection that can be contagious.

How is cellulite controlled?

In the first place, it is essential for the physician to distinguish if the inflammation is caused by an infection. Physical examination and analysis of the patient's medical history may provide clues in this regard. A bacterial can help in the identification of the disease, even if, in many cases of cellulitis, the concentration of bacteria may be low and the cultures fail to demonstrate the cause infection. When it is difficult or impossible to distinguish whether the inflammation is due to an infection, doctors sometimes decide to take antibiotics as a precaution. If the situation does not improve, then it might be necessary to adopt other methods. For example, if the inflammation is thought to be caused by an autoimmune disease, treatment may include the use of a corticosteroid. Antibiotics are used for the treatment of Cellulitis. If antibiotics are seen to be resistant, they may be replaced with another type of antibiotics that is most appropriate. In many cases, the treatment involves the administration of intravenous antibiotics in the hospital setting, as those to be taken orally can not always give a total efficiency. In some cases, intravenous antibiotics may also be administered at home. The doctors however, may choose a treatment based on many factors, including the location and extent of the infection, the type of bacteria causing the infection and the general state of health of the patient.

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