Cellulitis is a type of infection that affects the skin and the tissue underneath. The bacteria, most commonly group A streptococcal bacteria, enter the skin through an opening, such as cut, scrape, burn, or surgical incision, or even a bug bite or sting.

Cellulitis can cause sepsis in some people.

Sepsis, which was often called blood poisoning, is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, and urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Where does cellulitis occur?

The infection is most common on the lower legs, but it can happen anywhere on the body. The symptoms of cellulitis include:

  • Redness around the area where the bacteria entered the skin
  • Tenderness, soreness of the affected area
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Fever
  • “Dimpling” of the skin

Risk factors for cellulitis

Anyone can develop cellulitis, but some people have a higher risk than others. If you fall into one of the higher risk categories, you should watch any injuries to the skin carefully.

  • Impaired immune system: People who have an impaired immune system are more vulnerable to contracting infections. These include people who are undergoing chemotherapy or who take corticosteroids. Visit Sepsis and Impaired Immune System to learn more.
  • Chronic illnesses: Illnesses like diabetes can increase your risk of developing infections. People with diabetes are particularly susceptible to getting sores on their feet and lower legs, which can become infected. You can learn more at Sepsis and Diabetes.
  • Skin conditions or disorders: Skin conditions and disorders can cause breaks in the skin. These include eczema, shingles, even so-called childhood illnesses like chickenpox.
  • Lymphedema: Lymphedema is a swelling of an arm or leg, most commonly caused by the removal of or damage to the lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment. The swollen and stretched skin can crack.
  • Obesity: People who are obese have a higher risk of having cellulitis and of getting it again.
  • History of cellulitis: If you’ve had cellulitis before, you have a higher risk of getting it again.

People who are malnourished are also at higher risk of contracting infections.


If you suspect you have cellulitis, see your doctor or nurse practitioner as soon as possible. If you need antibiotics, it is vital that you take them as prescribed, right to the end of the prescription, even if it appears the infection has gone away before the prescription bottle is empty. Ask your doctor or nurse practitioner when you should start seeing improvement. If you feel that the infection is worsening or there is no improvement despite treatment, you should have the infection checked again.

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.” 

The information here is also available as a Sepsis Information Guide, a downloadable format for easier printing.

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

Suggested Citation: Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Cellulitis. 2023. https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/cellulitis/

Updated February 7, 2023.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Cellulitis

Joseph K.


On June 17, 2006 I departed Tallin, Estonia, bound for St. Petersburg, Russia, to join Linda, my wife, and two of her friends for a Russian holiday extending through June 27. I was having a recurring problem with athlete’s foot and was treating it with a medication I brought from America. Sandy was a nurse. She looked at the infected area and recommended that I continue treating it with the American medication. My wife and her friends then departed for America, and I departed to Bratislava, Slovakia, to prepare for an accounting training course I was to conduct. The athlete’s ... Read Full Story

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Promise Selepe

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Blessing was only 6 months when she started being sick. She was irritated and crying nonstop. We went to a general practitioner and she said she was teething. We went home later that night. When I was changing her diaper, I noticed her right leg was swollen I thought it’s nothing serious. I thought it was swollen because of the measles vaccine she got. The following day I noticed she was getting worse so we decided to take her to the local clinic where they sent us to the local hospital. When we got the hospital, while waiting to the ... Read Full Story

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Ian S. Conway

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Our daddy died on the 30 June 2017 we took him in to hospital on the Thursday by the Friday he had gone we found out a few days later he died of sepsis. He was the best dad ever. It started on the Monday when the doctors failed him. They said it was his cellulitis and gave him antibiotics without coming out. (Sepsis and Cellulitis) He became very ill through the week and on the Wednesday he had hypoglycemia due to type 2 diabetes. We had gotten him stable.  (Sepsis and Diabetes) The next day frantically rang the doctors  ... Read Full Story

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Zachariah Reynolds

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My son was a loving and caring person that would give the shirt off his back to those in need. He slipped up and someone injected him with methamphetamines. The arm was very red and edematous on the 12th of December and he went to the hospital by ambulance seeking medical care. The doctor does a review of systems that is not accurate in describing how my son’s arm actually looked. He states my son was oriented to person and place. The doctor did not think he saw any cellulitis, but non the less as he put it, he did ... Read Full Story

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Amy White

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It all started when my first daughter was about 9 months old and I had just found out I was pregnant again. My daughter used to pull my hair to get to sleep and one day pulled it that hard a chunk of hair ripped out and left a small bald patch. This small bald patch turned into a benign lymphoma. I was refused surgery to remove it even though it pussed and wept, because I was pregnant. Eventually second daughter was born and when she was about a week old I just wasn’t feeling great. I was freezing cold ... Read Full Story

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Cellulitis is a type of infection that affects the skin and the tissue underneath. The bacteria, most commonly group A streptococcal bacteria, enter the skin through an opening, such as cut, scrape, burn, or surgical incision, or even a bug bite or sting.