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What Is the Connection between Strep and Cellulitis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2016
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Streptococcus bacteria, known colloquially as “strep,” are a common cause of cellulitis, a painful skin infection that can become very serious. The connection between strep and cellulitis is important to keep in mind, as it is possible to spread a strep infection from one area of the body to another. Additionally, many people carry strep without any symptoms and could potentially cause skin infections in immunocompromised individuals by coming into close contact with them.

The other leading cause of cellulitis is Staphyloccocus bacteria, known as staph. Both strep and staph bacteria are naturally present in the environment and typically cause an infection by entering a small break in the skin. A simple cut or scrape can invite strep, and cellulitis will follow as the bacteria quickly colonize the upper layers of the skin and start to dig deeper to cause a very painful infection.

One problem with strep and cellulitis is that Streptococcus naturally produces compounds that attack the immune system. The body is not able to respond to the bacteria, and this allows the infection to spread. A small raised rash usually shows up with staph, but in strep infections, the rash can quickly travel across an entire limb. The patient's skin will turn red, swollen, and tender. She may experience pain and irritation, and sometimes the skin will feel tight.

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If a doctor suspects strep and cellulitis, he can administer antibiotics to treat the infection. He may take a scraping to confirm the diagnosis and check for antibiotic susceptibility. This reduces the chances of prescribing a medication the bacteria won't respond to, ensuring that the patient gets the right drug from the start. Treatment can also involve regularly cleaning the area with mild soap and keeping it covered in loose, clean, breathable clothing to prevent irritation.

It is very important to get treatment for this, as the infection can spread and cause complications like toxic shock syndrome. Parents should be aware of a particular risk of strep and cellulitis with children known as perianal streptococcal cellulitis, where children transfer bacteria from their hands to the anal area. This causes cellulitis, leading to pain and swelling around the anus. Children should be taught to wash their hands after coughing or handling infected tissue. Proper bathroom hygiene, including consistent wiping patterns and using the sink after finishing at the toilet, will also help cut the risks of transferring bacteria between different areas of the body.

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