Cellulitis

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.

Often incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis 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.

Treatment

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. 2022. https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/cellulitis/

Updated February 9, 2022.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Cellulitis

Joseph K.

Survivor

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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Ian S. Conway

Survivor, Tribute

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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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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Christopher L.

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What started as a blackhead turned into an extremely painful chest cavity abscess the size of half a baseball! I thought I was on the mend after my Urgent Care visit to get the sucker removed. Little did I know, this would be the start of a very painful and scary experience – in the middle of a pandemic! 24 hours later, I was in so much pain and muffling my tears as I sought help from an advice nurse. By the time I got to the ER, I had a temperature of 102.9F and a team of doctors surrounding ... Read Full Story

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Caitlin Alsop

Survivor, Tribute, Survivor, Survivor

Skydiving for the #SepsisSuperhero challenge! At 23, I faced the biggest fight of my life, met my true heroes and gained a whole new voice and cause for something I previously knew nothing about. I’d heard of sepsis but didn’t know what it was and didn’t think it would happen to me. Every day, I am so grateful to the doctors and nurses for my life. Raising awareness about sepsis has become my mission. This is my story of sepsis and my second chance at life. After a quiet Saturday night dinner with a friend, following a ‘common cold’; I ... Read Full Story

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Cellulitis

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.