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What Are the Different Causes of Cellulitis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Images By: Charger_V8, Monika Wisniewska, Kondor83, Jason Ormand
  • Last Modified Date: 09 July 2014
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Cellulitis is a skin infection caused by bacteria. There are many ways bacteria can be introduced to the skin and some people are at increased risk for developing cellulitis because of existing medical conditions. Being aware of potential causes of cellulitis can help people avoid it if they are vulnerable to infection. It is important to receive treatment as the infection can spread into the deep tissues of the body and reach the bloodstream, potentially becoming fatal.

Most cases of cellulitis involve Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria. Skin infections can also be caused by Hemophilus influenzae, Vibrio vulnificus, Pasteurella multocida, Aeromonas hydrophilia, or Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In all cases, the root cause of the cellulitis is the introduction of bacteria to the skin through a cut or scrape and numerous kind of injuries can be causes of cellulitis.

Causes of cellulitis can include surgical wounds, puncture wounds, bites or scratches from animals, intravenous drug use, skinned knees after falls, open fractures, and any other injuries where the skin is broken, providing an opportunity for bacteria to enter. People can also develop cellulitis if they have dry, flaky skin, as there may be small cracks for bacteria to enter the body. Likewise, burns are another one of the causes of cellulitis.

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People with poor circulation, weakened immune systems, and a history of steroid use are at increased risk for cellulitis. Causes for cellulitis in these individuals can be relatively mild injuries that may turn very serious as a result of the patient's inability to fight back once the bacteria start colonizing. It is important to clean all wounds and keep them clean, and wound sites should be watched for the tell-tale redness, swelling, heat, and pain associated with cellulitis infections. If an infection is identified, a doctor should be consulted for treatment.

Some cases, cellulitis infections can resolve on its own. Others cannot, and require antibiotic therapy to kill the bacteria. It is important to treat the infection before it has a chance to spread into deeper tissues of the body, like the muscles, as this can lead to serious complications including gangrene. People who know they have been exposed to one of the causes of cellulitis can reduce their risk of developing an infection by cleaning the wound with care several times a day and keeping it covered to limit exposure to bacteria. It is also important to be aware that contact with individuals who have active infections can be dangerous.

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