Cellulitis is an infection caused by bacteria that affects the skin and the tissues beneath it. A crack in the skin allows germs to enter resulting in an infection. The skin becomes swollen, inflamed, warm, and painful.

Although cellulitis may develop in any part of the body, it typically affects the lower portion such as the legs, feet, and toes. It can also appear on the face, arms, hands, and fingers. The infection is normally not contagious.

Skin discoloration is usually the first sign of cellulitis. The discoloration becomes darker as the infection spreads and the skin expands and becomes sensitive. If left untreated, the infection has the potential to rapidly spread to the lymph nodes and bloodstream, leading to immediate fatality.


Cellulitis can cause flu-like symptoms such as a temperature of more than 38 degrees Celsius, chills, sweat, body pains, and exhaustion. It typically affects one side of the body. Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Skin inflammation that spreads
  • Spots or rash-like discoloration, specifically red, purple, or somewhat darker than the regular skin color
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Dimpling of the skin

Early diagnosis and treatment of cellulitis is crucial due to its potential rapid spread throughout the body. If you experience symptoms such as a swollen, tender rash that is changing quickly or accompanied by a fever, it is essential to seek emergency care immediately. If you have a rash that is swollen, tender, warm, and expanding but do not have a fever, it is recommended to see your healthcare provider preferably on the same day for prompt evaluation and appropriate treatment.


Cellulitis develops when bacteria, particularly streptococcus and staphylococcus, penetrate the skin through a fracture or opening. The prevalence of a more severe staphylococcus infection known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is on the rise.

Although cellulitis can manifest on any part of the body, it commonly affects the lower leg. Bacteria have a higher chance of entering the skin when it is dry, cracked, flaky, or swollen. Examples of such vulnerable conditions include recent surgical sites, cuts, puncture wounds, ulcers, athlete’s foot, or dermatitis.

Risk factors

Cellulitis is a common condition that can affect anyone. However, certain factors may influence one’s susceptibility to this condition, such as:

  • Wound or injury. Bacteria can enter the body through various means, including cuts, fractures, burns, scrapes, bug bites, animal bites, surgical incisions, tattoos, or piercings.
  • Compromised immune system. Certain medications can impair the immune system, making it less effective in fighting off infections. Conditions such as diabetes, leukemia, and HIV/AIDS can also weaken the immune system, increasing the risk of developing cellulitis.
  • Skin conditions. Chronic skin ailments such as athlete’s foot, eczema, or psoriasis can create openings in the skin, making it easier for bacteria to enter the body and cause cellulitis.
  • Lymphedema. This refers to long-term swelling of the limbs or legs, which can occur following surgery. Lymphedema can impair the normal flow of lymphatic fluid, increasing the risk of developing cellulitis.
  • History of cellulitis. Individuals who have previously had cellulitis are at a higher risk of experiencing recurrent episodes of the condition.
  • Obesity. Being overweight or obese is associated with a higher chance of developing cellulitis.

It is important to note that while these factors may increase the susceptibility to cellulitis, anyone can still develop the condition regardless of these risk factors.