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What to Know About Cellulitis From an Insect Bite

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on August 10, 2022

Bites from mosquitoes, wasps, spiders, and other bugs can break your skin, leaving an opening for bacteria to enter. 

Insect bites don't directly cause conditions like cellulitis. However, the broken skin and itchiness associated with insect bites increase your risk of developing cellulitis from a bug bite.

What Is Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a skin infection that can be caused by many different types of bacteria. It causes swelling, redness, and pain in the area that's infected. If you don't treat cellulitis, it can spread and cause serious problems affecting your joints, bones, blood, or heart. Cellulitis can be treated by your healthcare provider with antibiotics.

Although cellulitis can be caused by many different types of bacteria, the two most common types are Group A Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria live on your skin and underneath your fingernails. 

Insect Bites

Most of the time, insect bites are mild and can be treated at home. However, insect bites cause a break in your skin that can allow bacteria to enter. If you scratch an insect bite, you can transfer bacteria from under your nails or surrounding skin into the wound. 

If you're bitten by an insect, treat it immediately to avoid complications such as cellulitis.

  • Move away from the area to avoid getting any more bites or stings. 
  • If you see a stinger, remove it from your skin. 
  • Wash the area of the insect bite with soap and water. 
  • Reduce pain and swelling by applying a cold cloth to the area for 10 to 20 minutes. 
  • If the bite or sting is on your arm or leg, elevate the limb to help reduce swelling. 
  • Use calamine lotion, baking soda paste, or hydrocortisone cream on the area several times a day. 
  • Take an antihistamine such as cetirizine, fexofenadine, or loratadine to help reduce itching. 
  • Use an over-the-counter pain reliever if needed. 

What Is Cellulitis From a Bug Bite?

An insect bite alone won't give you cellulitis. Insects don't transmit the bacteria that cause cellulitis through their bites or stings. However, the break in your skin caused by the bite or sting can give the bacteria a chance to get inside your body and cause an infection. These types of bacteria commonly live on your skin and in your nose and mouth, even if you're healthy. 

Symptoms of Cellulitis From an Insect Bite

Cellulitis symptoms from an insect bite may not develop in the first several days after an insect bite. They usually start with a small area of skin that's red, swollen, tender, and warm. The skin may be pitted like an orange peel or develop blisters. You may have a fever and chills. Cellulitis is most common on the feet and legs, but it can appear on any part of your body.

Treating Cellulitis From an Insect Bite

Your doctor can diagnose cellulitis based on a physical exam. There's no blood test that can determine if you have cellulitis, but a test can determine what type of bacteria is causing the infection. 

Common cellulitis bug bite treatment may involve: 

Antibiotics. Cellulitis may be treated with an antibiotic you take by mouth. The type of antibiotic you need will depend on what type of bacteria is causing your cellulitis. You may need to take antibiotics for 7 to 14 days or longer if you have a weakened immune system. 

Some people may need more than one type of antibiotic or may need an IV antibiotic. IV antibiotics may be administered in the hospital to treat severe cellulitis or cellulitis of the face. People who are hospitalized with cellulitis usually have to stay in the hospital for a little over a week.  

Wound care. Taking care of the wound is an important part of treating cellulitis. Keeping it covered may help it heal faster. Your healthcare provider will let you know if you need to use special dressings or medicines to take care of your wound. 

Rest and elevation. You may need to keep the site of cellulitis elevated to help relieve the swelling and help your body heal. 

How to Prevent Cellulitis From an Insect Bite

Here are some steps you can take to prevent developing cellulitis from an insect bite: 

  • Use soap and water to clean an insect bite. 
  • Apply antibiotic ointment to the bug bite if the skin is broken. 
  • Use a bandage to cover the bug bite to keep it clean and prevent scratching. 
  • Reapply a fresh band-aid and ointment daily or whenever it gets dirty. 
  • Try to prevent itching by taking an over-the-counter antihistamine.

You can also reduce your chances of developing cellulitis from an insect bite by reducing your chances of getting bitten: 

  • Use an insect repellent approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants when you're outside. 
  • Use an insecticide on your clothes. 

Risks and Complications of Cellulitis From an Insect Bite

Cellulitis can cause serious complications if left untreated. You should see your doctor immediately if you have cellulitis along with any of the following symptoms: 

  • A large area of skin that's red and inflamed
  • Fever 
  • Numbness, tingling, or other changes in the affected area
  • Skin that appears blackened
  • A red and swollen area around your eyes or behind your ears
  • Diabetes or a weakened immune system

Untreated cellulitis can cause: 

  • Bacteremia, an infection of the blood
  • Endocarditis, an infection of the inner linings of the heart's valves and chambers
  • Toxic shock syndrome, a life-threatening condition caused by bacterial toxins
  • Sepsis, an extreme response to infection
  • Necrotizing fasciitis, an infection that destroys tissue under the skin

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

American Academy of Dermatology Association: "CELLULITIS: DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Cellulitis."

Cleveland Clinic: "Cellulitis From a Bug Bite."

John Hopkins Medicine: "Cellulitis."

Mayo Clinic: "Cellulitis," "Insect bites and stings: First aid."

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