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Medical Minutes: Answers to frequently asked questions


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Sarah Power


Question:  Dear Practitioner Power, Can you explain what Cellulitis is and how to treat it.

Answer: Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and soft tissue of the skin.

The infection is usually caused by bacteria, such as staphylococci (“Staph”) or streptococci (“Strep”) that are commonly present on the skin or inner surface of the nose or mouth of otherwise normal and healthy people. The infection develops when there is a break in the skin, such as a wound or athlete’s foot, which may be minor or even unnoticed. This allows bacteria to enter the skin and grow, causing infection and swelling.

Many cases of cellulitis are mild and can be easily managed with antibiotics. However, some cases can be severe and therefore, it is important to seek medical care promptly. Patients with diabetes are especially prone to developing more severe skin infections. 

The most common symptoms of cellulitis are pain or tenderness in the area of skin involvement, redness, warmth, swelling, and sometimes fever. The onset may be gradual or sudden, and the symptoms can worsen over the course of hours or days. Cellulitis most commonly involves the leg but can also include other areas. 

If you suspect a skin infection, you should seek immediate medical attention from a healthcare provider. You should elevate the involved extremity if possible, keep the affected area clean and dry, and take all antibiotics that are prescribed to you. Most cases of cellulitis begin to improve within one to three days after starting antibiotics, although symptoms can persist for two weeks.  Your healthcare provider will likely want to follow you closely during this time period. 

In most cases, you will recover completely from an episode of cellulitis without any complications. Most forms of cellulitis are not highly contagious to other family members. However, when you have cellulitis, it is important to wash your hands regularly with soap and water and to avoid sharing towels.


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