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This refers to a painful spreading inflammation of the skin, which appears red and swollen with fluid.

Cellulitis usually begins as a small area of pain and redness on the skin. This area spreads to surrounding tissues, resulting in the typical signs of inflammation - redness, swelling, warmth, and pain. 

The skin has many types of bacteria living on it, but intact or unbroken skin is an effective barrier that keeps these bacteria from entering and growing within the body. When there is a break in the skin, bacteria can enter the body and grow there, causing infection and inflammation. The skin tissues in the infected area become red, hot, irritated and painful.

Cellulitis is most common on the lower legs and the arms or hands, although other areas of the body may sometimes be involved. If it involves the face, medical attention is urgent. People with fungal infections of the feet, who have skin cracks in the web spaces between the toes, may have cellulitis that keeps coming back, because the cracks in the skin are an opening for bacteria.

Risk factors for cellulitis include:

  • Insect bites and stings, animal bite or human bite
  • Injury or trauma with a break in the skin (skin wounds)
  • History of peripheral vascular disease
  • Diabetes - related or ischemic ulcers
  • Cracks or peeling skin between the toes
  • Use of immunosuppressive or corticosteroid medications


  • Localized skin redness or inflammation that increases in size as the infection spreads
  • Tight, glossy, "stretched" appearance of the skin
  • Pain or tenderness of the area
  • Skin lesion or rash (macule):
  • Sudden onset
  • Usually with sharp borders
  • Rapid growth within the first 24 hours
  • Warmth over the area of redness
  • Fever

Other signs of infection:

  • Chills, shaking
  • Warm skin, sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches, pains (myalgias)
  • General ill feeling (malaise)

Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Joint stiffness caused by swelling of the tissue over the joint
  • Hair loss at the site of infection

If you are concerned about any of these symptoms, please contact your GP as soon as possible.