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What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a spreading inflammation of the skin and the tissues directly beneath it. It's usually caused by a bacterial infection and can become serious if not treated with antibiotics.

If you think you or someone in your care has cellulitis, it's important to get medical attention soon as possible.

The main signs of cellulitis are skin that is red, painful, swollen, tender and warm to touch. People with severe cellulitis can get fever, chills, sweating and nausea, and might feel generally unwell.

Cellulitis often affects the lower leg, but can occur on any part of the body including the face. The infection may occur when bacteria enter the skin through an ulcer, cut or a scratch or an insect bite. However it can occur without any visible damage to the skin.

Sometimes bacteria from cellulitis spreads into the blood stream, which is called sepsis and this is a medical emergency.

People with cellulitis can quickly become very unwell and a small number of people may develop serious complications.

Illustration showing cellulitis.
Signs of cellulitis include red, painful, and swollen skin that is warm to touch. It can affect any part of the body.

Antibiotics are the main treatment, usually orally at home. Some people need treatment in hospital. Rest and elevation (raising) of the limb are also very important. In some cases the affected limb may need compression.

Follow the links below to find trusted information about cellulitis.

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Last reviewed: September 2018

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Cellulitis - Better Health Channel

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin that occurs most commonly on the lower legs and in areas where the skin is damaged or inflamed.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Cellulitis in children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

Cellulitis is a skin infection that can start from a tiny scratch. If your child has cellulitis symptoms, he should see a GP because he needs antibiotics.

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Cellulitis is an infection of the skin caused by bacteria, usually Staphylococcus aureus (also called Staph) and Group A beta haemolytic streptococcus. These bacteria live on the skin and may enter an area of broken skin like a cut or scratch and cause an infection in the tissue under the skin.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Dissecting cellulitis of the scalp - ACD

Dissecting cellulitis of the scalp is a rare condition in which pus-filled lumps develop on the scalp, resulting in scarring and permanent hair loss over the area affected.

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Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA, Staph infection) | HealthEngine Blog

Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a severe bacterial infection. It is resistant to common antibiotic treatments and difficult to treat.

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Haemophilus Influenzae Type b (Hib) disease fact sheet - Fact sheets

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Stye -

A stye (sty) is an infection of a follicle or gland at the base of an eyelash, caused by bacteria, usually Staphylococcus. It happens when the follicle becomes clogged with oil or dirt.

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Sepsis (systemic inflammatory response syndrome; SIRS) | HealthEngine Blog

Sepsis is a severe infection of the bloodstream by bacteria, virus or fungi. Symptoms include fever, fast heart rate and difficulty breathing.

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Bacterial skin and soft tissue infections | Issue 5 | Volume 39 | Australian Prescriber

Knowing when antibiotics are needed, and when to consider hospital referral are important in appropriate management of skin infections.

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Impetigo - ACD

Impetigo is an infection of the skin that can be passed from person to person. It can affect skin that is intact (known as primary impetigo) or skin that is already compromised with cuts, abrasions, insect bites or other skin conditions such as eczema.

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

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