Leg Cellulitis

All You Need to Know About Leg Cellulitis

Leg cellulitis is a leg infection that presents itself through pain, redness, swelling and warmth of the skin.  Whole body symptoms such as fever and chills are also likely to be manifested in some cases. Leg cellulitis affects people of both sexes and all age groups.

Leg cellulitis is a bacterial infection and in many adults, who have no other health issue, it is triggered by group A streptococcus. This is the same bacterium that is associated with the strep throat. Adults sometimes also show signs of leg cellulitis if infected by Staphylococcus aureus. Haemophilus influenzae is the main cause of leg cellulitis in very young children.

While there is no clear indication of who may or may not get this problem, there are some factors that have been noted as indicating risk of leg cellulitis. People with vein problems, issues with the lymphatic system, broken skin, swollen leg, weight issues etc., are more vulnerable than the average population. The risk increases further in the case of persons who have skin ulcer such as that caused by diabetes, surgical wounds or eczema. A prior experience of leg cellulitis, radiation therapy, lymph node removal through surgery, chemotherapy, pregnancy, bypass surgery and IV drug use are all listed among factors that can increase a person’s chances of getting leg cellulitis.  Systemic changes in the body stemming from medical conditions such as heart failure, lupus, diabetes, leukemia, HIV, lymphoma, psoriasis and dyshidrosis may also lead to leg cellulitis. This does not mean that people with these conditions will get the cellulitis on their legs but there is a greater probability of their being affected.

Skin that is affected by leg cellulitis will look red and swollen and the doctor is likely to make the diagnosis based on a physical examination. Medical history and blood tests will be used to confirm the diagnosis as an infection will show up in a blood test report. During the physical exam, the doctor will look for cuts, scrapes and bruises and check for skin ulcers as these will indicate where the bacterium may have entered the body.

 There are two parts to the treatment for leg cellulitis. First of all there has to be an immediate cure of the symptoms such as the pain and swelling and there should also be an effort to target the underlying problem that facilitates the growth of this infection so that there is less of a chance of the recurrence of leg cellulitis. Pain killer, cold compresses and elevation can help in dealing with the swelling and pain. Antibiotics will be prescribed to fight the bacterial infection and patients should make sure they take the entire course to get the full benefit of the treatment. In around 50% of the cases, people do experience a recurrence of the problem and doctors tend to prescribe an extension of the course of antibiotics. Where there are systemic health issues, a separate course of treatment will be initiated for that also.

Leg cellulitis is not considered a contagious problem but it is worth noting that bacteria is the source of the trouble and bacteria can be transferred to other people in the vicinity. If someone else who gets the bacteria develops a leg wound or athlete’s foot, the conditions develop for an episode of leg cellulitis. So, good hygiene practices such as washing hands with soap and water at regular intervals and keeping the patient’s clothes, towels and blankets separate are steps worth following.

In some rare cases, the streptococci may attack deeper layers beneath the skin and there will be a rapid progression of the infection. The tissue overlying the muscle, which is known as the fascia, can become infected and die. This aggravated version of the disease is called necrotizing fasciitis. This is sometimes also referred to in dramatic terms as a case of flesh-eating bacteria. While it is good to be aware of the dangers of an unattended infection, this is really a separate form of the disease.