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    Cellulitis Overview

    Cellulitis is a common infection of the skin and the soft tissues underneath. It happens when bacteria enter a break in the skin and spread. The result is infection, which may cause swelling, redness, pain, or warmth.

    You’re at risk if you have:

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    Necrotizing Fasciitis (Flesh-Eating Bacteria)

    Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare infection that's often described in media reports as a condition involving "flesh-eating bacteria." It can be fatal if not treated promptly. Necrotizing fasciitis spreads quickly and aggressively in an infected person. It causes tissue death at the infection site and beyond. Every year, between 600 and 700 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. About 25% to 30% of those cases result in death. It rarely occurs in children.

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    • Trauma to the skin
    • Diabetes
    • Circulatory problems, such as not enough blood flow to your arms and legs, poor drainage of your veins or lymphatic system, or varicose veins -- twisted, enlarged veins near the surface of the skin
    • Liver disease such as chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis
    • Skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, or infectious diseases that cause sores, such as chickenpox

    Causes of Cellulitis

    • Injuries that tear the skin
    • Infections after surgery
    • Long-term skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis
    • Foreign objects in the skin
    • Bone infections underneath the skin. (An example is a long-standing, open wound that is deep enough to expose the bone to bacteria.)

    Symptoms of Cellulitis

    Cellulitis can appear on almost any part of the body. It usually shows up on damaged skin such as inflamed wounds, dirty cuts, and areas with poor circulation. It needs to be treated by a doctor. Common symptoms include:

    • Redness
    • Red streaking
    • Swelling
    • Warmth
    • Pain or tenderness
    • Leaking of yellow, clear fluid or pus

    When to Seek Emergency Care for Cellulitis

    Go to the emergency room if you have any of the following:

    • High fever or chills
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Enlarging or hardening of the reddened area
    • Increased pain
    • Numbness of the area when touched
    • Other medical problems that may be affected by even a minor infection

    Exams and Tests for Cellulitis

    Your doctor will do a medical history and physical exam. Additional procedures include:

    • A blood test if the infection is suspected to have spread to your blood
    • An X-ray if there’s a foreign object in the skin or the bone underneath is possibly infected
    • A culture. Your doctor will use a needle to draw fluid from the affected area and send it to the lab.

    Treatment for Cellulitis

    • Rest the area.
    • Elevate the area to help reduce swelling and relieve discomfort.
    • Use over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) to ease the pain, as well as keep your fever down.

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