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What Causes Cellulitis?

By Mike Parker ; Updated July 27, 2017

Cellulitis is a common infection of the skin that can occur anywhere on the body but most frequently affects the lower legs. Potentially serious, this bacterial infection can quickly spread not only on the surface of the skin but may also enter the bloodstream and lymph system. Infected skin is tender and hot to the touch and looks swollen and red. Cellulitis is a skin condition that typically requires medical attention. If left untreated, this infection could even be life threatening.


Cellulitis is a bacterial infection most commonly caused by either Streptococcus and Staphylococcus bacteria. The bacteria may enter the body through small cuts or puncture wounds, athlete's foot, surgical incisions, ulcers or breaks in the skin caused by dermatitis.

Insect Bites

The Streptococcus and Staphylococcus bacteria that cause cellulitis can be transmitted to humans through the bite of certain insects and spiders. Skin that is dry, flaky or swollen can also present an opportunity for bacteria to invade the body. .


Cellulitis is not typically thought of as being a contagious disease. It is, however, possible to contract cellulitis from another person if you come into direct contact with an open sore from an infected person. The bacteria would need an entry path into your system through a cut or wound on your body.


A number of factors make a person more susceptible to contracting cellulitis. The natural aging process contributes to a diminished circulation system, which may make the ability of white blood cells to detect early infections less effective. People with weakened immune systems or diabetes are at greater risk for cellulitis infections. People with chickenpox or shingles are highly susceptible to cellulitis because of the blistering effect of these diseases present a greater opportunity for bacterial infection of the skin. People with recurring fungal infections of the toe, feet or nails are at an increased risk for cellulitis.


Physicians typically treat Streptococci and Staphylococci infections, including cellulitis, with prescription oral antibiotics such as cephalexin. The course of treatment usually lasts from 10 days to 2 weeks. If the patient does not respond to such treatment or exhibits a high fever, hospitalization may be required.

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