Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a common skin infection that can occur at any age, but is most common in children and older people.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms include:

  • redness
  • pain
  • the skin may be warm and start swelling.
  • Sometimes there is an existing scratch or wound that becomes infected.
  • Other times it can occur with no warning.
  • There may be pus or fluid leaking from the skin due to an existing skin infection or boil.
  • The red area keeps growing. Gently mark the edge of the infected red area with a pen to see if the red area grows bigger.
  • Red lines may appear in the skin spreading out from the centre of the infection.

Bacteria are usually due to S. aureus and/or S. pyogenes.

Risk factors

Cellulitis is more common in people with other conditions such as:

  • diabetes, 
  • obesity,
  • venous disease,
  • alcoholism,
  • injuries or trauma.

Treatment

Cellulitis is a serious infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics. Go to the doctor if the infected area is painful or bigger than a 10 cent piece.

  • Wash the infected skin with warm water or in a salt bath. A teaspoon of salt, antiseptic or bleach could be added to a bath to help kill the bacteria.
  • Make sure you have understood how to take the antibiotics - how many times per day and what dose.
  • It is also important to finish all the medicine even if the infection seems to have gone to stop it coming back. 
  • Check and clean the infected skin every day.
  • Cover with a clean cloth or plaster if fluid or pus is coming out of the infection.
  • Keep the infected area raised, for example if the cellulitis is in your child’s leg, they should lie down and put a pillow under their leg.
  • Give your child paracetamol if they are in pain.
  • Wash your hands before and after touching the infected area.
  • Keep your child’s nails short and clean.
  • Don’t let your child share bath water, towels, sheets and clothes.
  • Make sure your child rests and eats plenty of fruit and vegetables and drinks plenty of water.

Warning signs 

  • If the infection is near the eye, go back to the doctor straight away.
  • Also get yourself or your child seen again by a doctor if the red area gets bigger or deeper or your child has a fever.
  • Cellulitis can spread to other parts of the body or blood. Your child may need blood tests or more antibiotics.

Time off from kura or school

At least one day after treatment (such as antibiotics) has started, or check with your doctor or public health nurse.

Credits: Based on Ministry of Health factsheet on cellulitis and Northern Region clinical pathways, 2013. Reviewed By: Dr J Bycroft Last reviewed: 07 Apr 2015