8 Surprising Facts About Cellulitis

  • back of woman's legs with red area, concept image of inflammation or pain in the back of the leg
    Cellulitis Facts You Need to Know
    With any medical condition, knowledge is powerful. If you or a loved one is dealing with cellulitis—a common and potentially serious skin infection—you’ll want the facts to make the best decisions for your health. This is a good place to start—by learning some cellulitis facts everyone needs to know.



  • dermatologist-examining-womans-elbow
    1. More than 14 million Americans get cellulitis each year.
    Lots of people may not know about cellulitis, but it’s a fairly common skin infection in the United States. In fact, it’s one of the most common bacterial skin infections affecting the U.S. population. Research shows bacterial skin infections rank as the 28th most common hospital diagnoses. Other common bacterial skin infections include impetigo and folliculitis.



  • gloved hand holding petri dish with millions of pathogenic bacteria growing on it
    2. Staph and strep are common causes of cellulitis.
    It’s important to understand what causes cellulitis. The two most common bacteria that cause it are Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. These bacteria normally live on the skin and don’t cause any harm. However, when they gain entry to the body, they can cause an infection. In cellulitis, they invade the skin through wounds or broken skin. Breaks in the skin can be very small and don’t have to be obvious to allow bacteria access to deeper skin layers. Once bacteria reach these layers, cellulitis can develop.



  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus in abdominal incision infection
    3. MRSA is a concern with cellulitis.
    MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a growing concern with cellulitis. In recent years, it has become a common cause of the infection. MRSA is dangerous because it is resistant to many antibiotics that used to be effective against it. And it used to be mainly a problem in hospitals and other facilities. Now, it is common out in the community, beyond healthcare facilities. Doctors still have antibiotic options that can treat MRSA. But it is more difficult to treat than other staph strains.



  • Man with granddaughter
    4. Cellulitis is not usually contagious.
    So, is cellulitis contagious? Unlike some other bacterial skin infections, most forms of cellulitis are not contagious. If you have cellulitis, it is unlikely that you can pass it on to other people. However, you still need to take precautions. It’s important to wash your hands regularly to keep them clean. Make sure people around you do too, especially if they are helping you care for your infection. And don’t share towels with others. These steps will protect you from other germs.



  • photo of man's swollen foot next to his normal size foot showing symptoms of infection or possible allergic reaction to insect bite or sting
    5. Adults most commonly get cellulitis on a leg or foot.
    While it can occur anywhere, the most common site for cellulitis in adults is a leg or foot. It typically only affects one side of the body. Symptoms include a red area that grows or spreads and is swollen, warm, tender and firm. Red streaks, blisters, open sores, and pus-filled bumps can also occur. When both legs or feet have symptoms, there is usually another cause. Severe infections can also cause fever, chills, cold sweats, and fatigue.



  • asian girl with swollen eye from cellulitis (periorbital cellulitis)
    6. Periorbital cellulitis is more common in children.
    Periorbital cellulitis affects the eyelids. Another name for it is preseptal cellulitis. This type of cellulitis is most common in children. The eyelids can swell so severely they close. However, vision and the eyeball itself are normal. This is an important point because it differentiates it from a more dangerous form—orbital cellulitis. Orbital cellulitis affects the eye socket. It can cause the eyeball to bulge and limit its movement. It also causes vision changes. Without prompt treatment, orbital cellulitis can cause blindness. Fortunately, periorbital cellulitis is much more common.



  • woman's leg is swollen and discolored from inflammatory reaction to bacterial infection
    7. Cellulitis is a potentially life-threatening infection.
    Don’t ignore signs of cellulitis. It can quickly progress to a serious infection. Bacteria can spread from the skin to the blood or lymph system. This can lead to a widespread infection of the organs, bones, or nervous system. Sepsis is also possible, which can lead to organ failure and even death. Cellulitis can lead to tissue death as well in the form of gangrene or necrotizing skin infections. The good news is prompt cellulitis treatment with antibiotics cures most cases without complications.



  • wound cleansing process in clinic
    8. You can get cellulitis again.
    If you have cellulitis once, you are more likely to get it again. When it returns, it tends to affect the same area. Knowing this, you can take steps to protect yourself in the future. Start by treating the first round of cellulitis exactly as your doctor instructs and finish all antibiotics. Going forward, try to avoid skin injuries and skip piercings and tattoos. Clean and protect all wounds right away. Talk with your doctor about other strategies for protecting your health. You may need more frequent skin checks to catch signs of cellulitis early.



8 Surprising Cellulitis Facts | Is Cellulitis Contagious?

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. Cellulitis. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/rashes/cellulitis#overview 
  2. Cellulitis. American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-cellulitis 
  3. Cellulitis. Johns Hopkins University. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/cellulitis 
  4. Cellulitis. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cellulitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20370762 
  5. Cellulitis. Merck Manual Consumer Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/skin-disorders/bacterial-skin-infections/cellulitis?query=Cellulitis 
  6. Cellulitis. Nemours Foundation. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/cellulitis.html 
  7. Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infection. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/bacterial-skin-infections/necrotizing-soft-tissue-infection
  8. Orbital Cellulitis. Merck Manual Consumer Versions. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/eye-disorders/eye-socket-disorders/orbital-cellulitis 
  9. Preseptal Cellulitis. Merck Manual Consumer Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/eye-disorders/eye-socket-disorders/preseptal-cellulitis 
  10. Stulberg DL, Penrod MA, Blatny RA. Common bacterial skin infections. Am Fam Physician. 2002 Jul 1;66(1):119-125.


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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jun 28
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