Skin Infection, Burns and Wound Care
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Patient education: Cellulitis
Patient education: Skin and soft tissue infection
SKIN INFECTION OVERVIEW
Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and soft tissue of the skin. The infection is usually caused by bacteria, such as staphylococci (“Staph”) or streptococci (“Strep”) that are commonly present on the skin or inner surface of the nose or mouth of otherwise normal and healthy people. The infection develops when there is a break in the skin, such as a wound or athlete’s foot, which may be minor or even unnoticed. This allows bacteria to enter the skin and grow, causing infection and swelling.
Many cases of cellulitis are mild and the involved skin clears completely with antibiotic treatment. However, some cases of cellulitis can be severe and lead to generalized infection. Thus, it is important to seek medical care promptly if the infection is associated with fever, rapid worsening of skin changes, other signs of progression, or if you have other medical problems, such as diabetes.
WOUND CARE: Open wounds — Open wounds should be dressed with dry gauze until fully healed. The bandage is removed prior to soaking the wound (see below) and replaced with a fresh dressing after soaking is completed. If the abscess is resolving, the patient may soak the wound several times a day in warm, soapy water and return for a final examination in 7 to 10 days or sooner if signs of systemic infection (eg, fever with expanding cellulitis) or abscess recurrence are present.
Cellulitis treatment includes antibiotics as well as treatment of any underlying condition that led to the skin infection. Elevate the area — Elevating the arm or leg above the level of the heart can help to reduce swelling and speed healing. Keep the area clean and dry — It is important to keep the infected area clean and dry. You can shower or bathe normally and pat the area dry with a clean towel. You can use a bandage or gauze to protect the skin if needed. Do not use any antibiotic ointments or creams.
Antibiotics — Most people with cellulitis are treated with an antibiotic that is taken by mouth for 5 to 14 days. The “best” antibiotic depends upon an evaluation by your healthcare provider as to the likely bacterial cause of cellulitis in your case.
If the infection is severe, you may need to be hospitalized and treated with antibiotics given through a vein (intravenously, or IV). It is important to take the antibiotic exactly as recommended and to finish the entire course of treatment. Skipping doses or ending treatment early could potentially allow the bacteria to become resistant and require longer treatment.
Time to heal — Resolution of fever and chills, if they were present, should occur within one to two days after starting antibiotic therapy. Local findings of swelling, warmth, and redness should begin to improve within one to three days after starting antibiotics, although these symptoms can persist for two weeks. If the reddened area becomes larger, more swollen, or more tender, call your healthcare provider. He or she may want to reexamine you to determine if further testing or an alternate antibiotic are needed.
Transmission to others — Most forms of cellulitis are not highly contagious to other family members. However, when you have cellulitis, it is important to wash your hands regularly with soap and water and to avoid sharing towels.
Please recheck in two days unless otherwise instructed by your provider. Please return sooner if any new or worsening redness, streaking, increased drainage or fever develops. If you were provided with an antibiotic, please fill this and take as directed until completion.
Please make telemedicine visit or return to the clinic for recheck in two days unless otherwise instructed by your provider. Please return sooner if any new or worsening redness, streaking, increased drainage or fever develops. If you were provided with an antibiotic, please fill this and take as directed until completion. If you are unable or if you are worsening, call us. For help finding a Primary provider, Dermatologist or Wound Care Specialist please call 410-601-WELL (9355)