Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and underlying tissue. The complications occur when a cut, scrape, or abrasion allows the bacteria to enter the body. When it isn’t treated or the infection doesn’t respond to the treatment the infection can spread. There are various risk factors that are associated with complications. When bacteria spread from the initial point of infection it can infect organs, the blood, and other parts of the body. The most common bacteria that is responsible for cellulitis is streptococcus and staphylococcus.

True Complications

One complication of cellulitis is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is a serious bacterial infection that is challenging to treat. Any infection that spreads to other parts of the body can be serious, but a MRSA infection can get worse really fast and suddenly become life threatening. When bacteria spread from the skin, complication of cellulitis like the following can occur:

  • Sepsis – infection of the blood
  • Meningitis – infection of the brain membrane
  • Endocarditis – infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Myocarditis – infection of blood vessels
  • Lymphangitis – infection of the lymphatic vessels
  • Necrotizing fasciitis – infection of the deep layers of the skin

There are many other types of infections that can occur when the bacteria spreads from the skin. Lymph nodes near the location of the infection may swell and become tender. Complications are not common, but some people are at a higher risk of complications from cellulitis.

Complication Risk Factors

Risk factors mean that a person may be more susceptible to cellulitis complications but cause the complications. People with the following are at a higher risk for complications from cellulitis:

  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • Living in a high population facility
  • Past cellulitis infections
  • Previous antibiotic treatment
  • Compromised immune system
  • Breaks in the skin

There is a wide range of beneficial and harmful bacteria on the skin. Most cellulitis infections will clear up on their own or with commonly used antibiotics. Avoiding an infection is one of the ways to prevent cellulitis.

Preventing Complications

Simply washing with soap and water will help prevent infections and reduce the risk of spreading bacteria to others. Avoiding using products and medications that kill bacteria will help reduce the risk of MRSA developing. Keep in mind anything that kills bacteria kills both the harmful and beneficial bacteria. This can alter the balance of bacteria and increase the risk of complication. Taking antibiotics exactly as prescribed by the doctor in important. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of cellulitis will prevent complications from this infection.

Treating Complications

Minor cellulitis can be treated at home, but it is generally treated with antibiotics. When the infection is not treated or does not respond to treatment complications can develop, which will need additional treatment. Further testing is often done to determine the specific strain of bacteria so that the most effective antibiotics can be treated. Complications may develop into life threatening conditions so hospitalization may be needed to administer antibiotics intravenously and to monitor the patient. Additional procedures, like taking a sample of spinal fluid, may be required to identify where and if the bacteria have spread to other parts of the body. In the case of a MRSA infection, steps will need to be taken to prevent the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Cellulitis treatment generally prevents the development of complications, but when it does, prompt treatment will be necessary.